A finale that delivers on the series’ promised action and emotional grandeur.



The final installment of Neill’s (The Journey to Karrith, 2016, etc.) baroque fantasy series.

After the disastrous battle in Karrith, in which dark elks slayed King Talamar, Prince Haille Hillbourne is a ruined man. Haunted by memories of his father and by the city’s carnage, he runs through an empty Karrith at night to try to cope. Eventually, the new king, Oean, arrests him for regicide and for conspiring with the invading Maurvant tribesmen. It doesn’t help Haille’s case that he rode into battle on Adamantus, an ally elk, hoping to thwart the dark elks. While clutching an odd, blue stone around his neck, King Oean sentences Haille to exile. Meanwhile, Katlyn, the prince’s classmate; and Avenger Red, a former child slaver, search for Adamantus, who’s fled. They meet Tallia Senkar, a Maurvant girl who describes a cloaked being called the Magus, who convinced the Maurvants’ Chief Kiruna that Karrith was to blame for failing crops, enabling a war. At the same time, Haille travels by filthy slave cart to the west coast, where he’s shipped to Castle Drahlstrom. There, he becomes the servant and secret confidant of Twiceborn Gregor Lachnor, a mage-in-training with secrets of his own. All the while, warrior sorcerers work to open the Seal of Dormain to release immortals called the Kryen. In this fifth Elk Riders novel, Neill continues to cut a unique swath through the epic-fantasy genre. Although so much has happened (and continues to happen) in the saga, the lush depictions of nature allow readers to pause and remain grounded. Along the Rimcur Mountains, for instance, “one could witness all varieties of weather: slanting slopes of rain draining from clouds, patches of brassy sunlight, rainbows slung over rainbows in-between.” Events from previous volumes continue to have importance in this one; the curative Font of Jasmeen, for example, failed to fix Avenger Red’s dwarfish height—and yet the woman is determined to atone for past sins, as if the font treated some other aspect of herself. Neill’s philosophical tone remains sharp, as when one character tells Haille, “Life does not owe you happiness, just purpose.”

A finale that delivers on the series’ promised action and emotional grandeur.

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5394-2643-1

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Tenebray

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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

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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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Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.


Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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