Pure, unadulterated epic fantasy—this 600-plus-page doorstopper will leave readers simultaneously satisfied and frustrated...

EMPIRE OF GRASS

The shelf-bending second installment in Williams’ Last King of Osten Ard saga (after The Witchwood Crown, 2017) exemplifies the very best—and worst—that epic fantasy has to offer.

The novel begins with Osten Ard—which is inhabited by mortals and a variety of fantastical races—in flux. Although the kingdoms and factions are seemingly at peace, increasing political tensions and deep-seated animosity have turned the continent into a powder keg about to explode into all-out war. When King Simon’s grandson and heir to the throne, Prince Morgan, is thought to be kidnapped by savage “grasslanders” and his wife, Queen Miriamele, is caught up in a violent uprising while attending a wedding in far-off Nabban, he is left alone to deal with the chaos closing in around him. The nomadic grasslanders have a new leader who is uniting the clans for war, and the near-immortal Norns are inexplicably gathering and following their ageless queen into Hayholt, King Simon’s home. Williams initially braids together the multiple plot threads adeptly—an impressive feat when considering the multitude of characters he's following. The grand-scale storytelling, however, does become unwieldy in extended sequences, and that narrative bloat negatively impacts the book's momentum. Additionally, the ending is not a conclusion at all but a respite. Readers who have spent countless hours immersed in this story may be less than pleased with the abrupt stoppage. But the inconsistent pacing and unsatisfying ending are more than counterbalanced by deep character development, impressive plot intricacy, and rich worldbuilding. The extensive histories and mythologies that Williams has created in this realm (beginning in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair) are comparable to fantasy’s most meticulously rendered realms, like Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Martin’s Westeros.

Pure, unadulterated epic fantasy—this 600-plus-page doorstopper will leave readers simultaneously satisfied and frustrated knowing how long they’ll have to wait to find out what transpires next in the sprawling realm of Osten Ard.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7564-1062-9

Page Count: 688

Publisher: DAW/Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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