Dramatic, fun, thoughtful, clever, and (literally) punchy.

A prophecy is unexpectedly foiled and a chosen hero cast adrift in this first of a fantasy trilogy inspired by Chinese martial arts films.

Elderly, one-armed, but still incredibly able war artist Ling Taishi is invited to view the progress of the Champion of the Five Under Heaven, prophesied to be the doom of the Eternal Khan, foe of the Zhuun Empire. Taishi discovers that the so-called hero, Wen Jian, is a poorly trained spoiled brat; nevertheless, she sees some potential in him and resolves to train the boy herself. Then a Zhuun foot patrol blunders into the naked, profoundly drunk Khan and kills him themselves, turning Jian into a political liability and forcing the new master-disciple team to go on the run. Under an assumed name, Jian toils resentfully as a novice and servant at a war artist school; Taishi dodges assassins and searches for the temple where the prophecy was made to learn how and why it failed. Meanwhile, Salminde, an elite warrior and close friend of the late Khan, looks first for her sister and then for some way of helping her people, forced into indentured servitude in the aftermath of the Khan’s death. Author Chu uses his knowledge and experience as a martial artist, stuntman, and actor to craft an exceptionally easy-to-visualize work with expertly blocked fight sequences; it’s impossible not to picture how everything would look on screen (of course, the trilogy has already been optioned for television). This novel is squarely directed at kung fu, wuxia, and wire-fu fans who adore Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; The Legend of Drunken Master; Kung Fu Hustle, and the like, providing a story with an epic sweep punctuated with dashes of humor and sharp-edged banter. Although Jian provides the initial spark for the plot, the novel is marvelously dominated by strong women, including the hot-tempered and fierce Taishi, who occasionally learns that rudeness is not always the best policy; the passionate, grieving Salminde, searching for meaning after her world has ended; and the mercurial, psychopathic shadow assassin Maza Qisami.

Dramatic, fun, thoughtful, clever, and (literally) punchy.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-23763-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022


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


From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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