The Force is strong in this intelligent launch of a mystic-tinged, space war saga.

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PHOENIX

From the QUEEN'S AVATAR series , Vol. 1

An Earth expedition to colonize distant worlds finds a placid, seemingly medieval alien culture that is actually part of an advanced civilization.

Alexander’s SF debut opens in the mid-22nd century. Earth officials send a long-distance starship with a group of scientists and military experts on a first-ever jump to a planet orbiting the star Kepler 452. The humans do not necessarily expect intelligent life standing in the way of their commercial colonization mission. But on a habitable planet dominated by a single continent, they meet the Haillar, a diminutive, almost fairylike race living in what looks like a feudal series of settlements. The aliens seem to take the Earth visitors politely in stride. But readers already know what the arrogant and ethnocentric humans do not: The Haillar are an ancient, sophisticated space-spanning race, some 250,000 years old. When required, they can wield immense power and technology—indistinguishable from magic. (It may actually be magic, centering on the manipulation of a mystical, all-pervading force called eka.) But for 20,000 years, the Haillar have been at war with a diabolical, all-consuming enemy called the Scourge. Now, the surprise appearance of Homo sapiens at what is actually a Haillar outpost facing an imminent Scourge attack tips the balance for all the species. The author starts this series opener deliberately, with dizzying mouthfuls of first-person alien jargon (“They share the same house name but come from two different sides of the Sen Diessa Dichotomy. Remelda is a Healer and the leader of the local Academy, while Dioran’s affinity is Oblivion, the same as the Suzerain Queen’s”). But the narrative culminates with exciting cosmic battleground action worthy of E.E. “Doc” Smith. In between, Alexander manages to insinuate both a tragic romance and a compact critique of the typical capitalist/Western imperialist (aka earthling) mindset, unable to perceive the natives—in this case, a charming little ET queen and her peers—for the mighty, virtual demigods they really are. It’s a fine blastoff for the series and, smoothly wrapping up as it does, can be enjoyed just as much as a stand-alone.

The Force is strong in this intelligent launch of a mystic-tinged, space war saga.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-70936-630-7

Page Count: 251

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2020

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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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A disappointing conclusion to a series that certainly wants to be epic and edgy but only manages to settle into its own ruts.

CRUSH THE KING

From the Crown of Shards series

Estep concludes her Crown of Shards trilogy (Protect the Prince, 2019, etc.) with a young warrior queen's long-delayed vengeance.

When the murder of Bellona's royal family set Evie on the path to claim the throne herself, she swore to kill the man responsible: evil King Maximus, of neighboring Morta. Now, after forming some alliances, she's ready for the task, as well as ready to keep fending off yet more attempts on her life. As in the previous books, the task of fighting magical assassins is made easier by Evie's unbeatable secret power of simply being immune to magic. Evie and her friends, the members of her former gladiator troupe, travel to the Regalia, a tournament of skill, with plans to use the festivities to confront and defeat Maximus—a villain so over-the-top in his sadism and arrogance that he's hard to take seriously. It's hard to take any of the threats Evie faces seriously either: Whether it's hordes of assassins, a magical tidal wave, or the supposed unmatched arcane power of Maximus himself, Evie's trump card—her magical immunity—continues to save the day. It's sadly predictable, as is the plot itself; the finale is telegraphed early on, and a supposed twist at the end is nonsensical. The supporting cast suffers, too: Lucas Sullivan, Evie's lover who drove much of Book 2, does nothing here but gaze at Evie with alternating lust or worry; Paloma, Evie's bodyguard, gets a potentially interesting subplot...that is resolved completely off-page. The endless descriptions of parties, dresses, attractive people—and the constant narrative claims that our heroine is supposedly good at intrigue—just add to the sense that we've been here before.

A disappointing conclusion to a series that certainly wants to be epic and edgy but only manages to settle into its own ruts.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-279769-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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