A diverting introduction to an inventive fantasy saga.

A CLATTER OF CHAINS

In this fantasy series opener, characters in a vast empire face such threats as warmongers and otherworldly creatures.

The Heli Empire, it seems, is “always at war.” So when the Renali Kingdom, a bitter enemy, suggests peace, some anticipate resistance to a treaty. A summit brings diplomats to Renali, including scribe and priest-in-training Marco dei Toriam and his mentor, Father Justin Wisenpraal. Unfortunately, conflict awaits them: sword-trained Marco chases down an assassin targeting a Renali princess—a killer whom apparently only the scribe can see. Not only do some people at the summit reject the attempts at peace, they also may be inciting further clashes or even war between nations. Meanwhile, an enigmatic, clawed creature from another plane of existence enters this world, likely the vicious being behind the recent “Butcher Murders.” In a concurrent plot, skilled thief and orphan Jiminy flees from a bounty, though he’s not exactly sure what sparked the price on his head. As he hunts for answers, he winds up in league with someone who needs his prowess to loot an immeasurably valuable item. Though van Wyck condensed his debut novel in this second edition, the engaging story retains an epic scale. The cast is unsurprisingly extensive, but the tale largely focuses on Marco, Justin, and Jiminy. Their individual subplots prove the most exciting; for example, Justin, using his empath ability, blocks Marco’s memory of a past trauma. And Marco’s recurring nightmares tease his dark, ominous history. In addition, the author shrouds much of the innovative story in mystery: Jiminy embarks on a prolonged journey before learning specifically what he’s stealing, and clawed creatures appear in glimpses of the long-ago past (“The final days of the Age of Magic”). Despite the book’s bulk and deliberate pace, the author’s brisk dialogue complements his indelible, concise prose: “The unhorsed rider was borne to the ground, hard. The victor held aloft a broken lance, galloping the length of the pitch.” The ending leaves at least one character’s fate in question, practically demanding that readers keep their eyes out for the sequel.

A diverting introduction to an inventive fantasy saga.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2016

ISBN: 979-8721831485

Page Count: 617

Publisher: Independently Published

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2021

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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A deceptively quiet beginning rockets to a thrilling finish, preparing us for the next volume’s undoubtedly explosive finale.

NONA THE NINTH

The third installment of a necromantic science-fantasy series continues working at puzzles of identity and the meaning of loyalty.

Previously (Gideon the Ninth, 2019; Harrow the Ninth, 2020), sullen but brilliant necromancer Harrowhark consumed the soul of Gideon, her foulmouthed cavalier, to become a Lyctor, a semi-immortal officer in the Emperor Undying’s court. In a desperate attempt to preserve Gideon’s identity, Harrow deliberately erased the other woman from her memories, leaving herself confused to the point of delusion, unable to access her full powers, and vulnerable to enemies both within and without the Emperor’s court. This novel introduces Nona, a sweet but extraordinarily naïve young woman who appears to be in Harrowhark’s body but with Gideon’s golden eyes, lacking both necromantic abilities and any memories prior to six months ago. Nona’s been happy despite her precarious living situation in a war-torn city threatened by the necromantic Houses and their foe, the Blood of Eden. Unfortunately, what fragile peace she has cannot last, and everything depends on recovering Nona’s memories and returning to Harrowhark’s home in the Ninth House, there to finally release the deadly threat lurking in the Locked Tomb. But who is Nona, really: Harrowhark, Gideon, a blend of both young women…or someone else entirely? (The reader will figure it out long before the characters do.) Meanwhile, the Emperor and Harrowhark meet in dreams, where he recounts events of 10,000 years ago, when, as a newly fledged necromancer, his conflict with the corrupt trillionaires who planned to escape the dying Earth and leave the remaining billions to perish led to nuclear apocalypse. It’s pretty gutsy of Muir to write two books in a row about amnesiac characters, particularly when it may very well be the same character experiencing a different form of amnesia in each. This work initially reads like a strange interlude from the series, devoted to Nona’s odd but essentially quotidian routine in the midst of war, riot, and general chaos. But the story gradually gathers speed, and it’s all in service to a deeper plot. It is unfortunate that the demands of that plot mean we’ve gotten a considerably smaller dose of Gideon’s defiantly crude, riotously flouncy behavior in the two books subsequent to the one which bears her name.

A deceptively quiet beginning rockets to a thrilling finish, preparing us for the next volume’s undoubtedly explosive finale.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-25-085411-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tordotcom

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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