A very strong start for a new voice.

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EMPIRE OF SAND

A woman confronts the evil at the source of a powerful empire in this fantasy debut that draws from the history and culture of India's Mughal Empire.

Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of the governor of Irinah in the Ambhan Empire and an Amrithi woman, a member of a feared and despised race of nomads descended from spirits. She lives a sheltered and privileged existence despite her ongoing conflict with her stepmother, until she performs an unwitting act of magic. That draws the attention of the Maha, the apparently immortal and infinitely cruel man who founded the empire, and his worshipful disciples, the mystics. They coerce Mehr into marrying Amun, their Amrithi mystic. Although the other mystics loathe the Amrithi and Amun in particular, they need an Amrithi couple to dance the Rite of the Bound, a magical act that warps the dreams of the sleeping Gods to fulfill the prayers of the mystics, maintaining and expanding the empire, and extending the Maha’s life. Is there any way for these two to escape the vows that bind them and find their own way toward freedom, love, and the possibility of honoring their own traditions? One must hope that this book is a harbinger of a coming flood of other fantasies that draw on traditions and cultures outside the confines of Northern Europe. Certainly, a post-colonial narrative in which a minority is both exploited and forced to assimilate has painful relevance in our own world and time. And there is something undoubtedly refreshing about a form of magic that is expressed in gesture instead of words. Those accustomed to the usual run of epic fantasy will find familiar elements: an obviously evil villain set against a heroine who has an unpleasant stepmother and who, despite being the chosen one, is struggling against overwhelming odds. But Suri’s deft and textured characterization breathes new life into these elements; she even takes a tired and often cloying trope—the triumph of the power of love—and makes it seem genuine, painful, and beautiful.

A very strong start for a new voice.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-44971-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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