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

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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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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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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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