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THE ART OF DESTINY

Fights, schemes, snappy dialogue, and some genuinely touching moments make this series continue to shine.

Three years after the events in the previous volume of this martial arts fantasy series (The Art of Prophecy, 2022), the paths of three foes diverge.

As the Zhuun empire approaches civil war, the fighting skills of the empire’s Prophesied Hero, Wen Jian, are improving. He’s still not ready to fight the Eternal Khan, but that’s fine for now, because the Khan hasn’t been reincarnated yet. However, there’s still an enormous bounty on his head, and the religion that anointed him a hero now dubs him a villain for not having killed the previous Khan. The Khan can’t reincarnate until one of his inner circle, Salminde the Viperstrike, submits herself to a ritual death and frees the portion of the Khan’s soul trapped and rotting within her. While Salminde seeks a way to cure herself and prevent the birth of a new Khan, the sociopathic assassin Maza Qisami is desperate for a way out of her own troubles. Having lost considerable status and money for failing to kill Wen Jian, she accepts a new assignment that just might get her back on track—unless she gets too comfortable in her cover as a ducal servant and/or entirely fails to notice that someone is planning to double-cross her (the reader will figure out most of what’s going on long before poor Qisami does). This story continues Wen Jian’s personal journey from rash, naïve spoiled brat to perhaps, eventually, a true martial artist, while vigorously introducing new characters and new plotlines. It is also genuinely interesting to watch Qisami begin to question her previously ruthless ways and confront the consequences of her behavior, and to see both her and Salminde struggle to seize a purpose and a place to belong that represent more than the next great fight against an enemy. As a result, this is a fun and fascinating book in its own right, and not a mere setup for the final installment in the trilogy.

Fights, schemes, snappy dialogue, and some genuinely touching moments make this series continue to shine.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9780593237663

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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