An impressive and intricate novel that’s rich in character and full of action.

FLIGHT OF THE WREN

Fox’s novel of adventure and intrigue, set in Scandinavia at the turn of the 11th century, follows a young woman from Lapland on a quest to save her family.

As the story opens, 6-year-old Hilja is left alone after her mother and sister are kidnapped by Norsemen. Soon afterward, the local shaman, Taika—also called “the Lady of the Wood”—takes Hilja under her wing and trains her as an apprentice. The training gives the girl an intimate knowledge of the natural world and allows her to communicate with animals. Hilja’s final test, at the age of 14, is a journey to the Underworld, where she receives a cryptic mission from one of its spirits: “You must cross the water to save the bear, heal the devil, find your sister, and help your son unite your land!” Elsewhere, the rulers of the Scandinavian countries plot their alliances and futures. Denmark’s king, Svein Forkbeard, favors his elder son, Harald, as his heir, but he asks Thorkell the Tall, a warrior of renown, to train his younger son, Canute. In Canute, Thorkell sees the potential for greatness, but his wife, the powerful witch Hekka, has her own plans for Norway. Intrigue abounds as Thorkell and Gunnhilde, queen of Denmark, struggle to suppress their mutual attraction. Svein, meanwhile, aims to marry the widow Sigrid of Uppland, whose son is heir to the Swedish throne. Somehow, Fox manages to juggle all of these many and varied storylines with grace and even finds room to write evocatively of real-life customs and rituals of the time and place in which his characters live. The depiction of Beltane, an ancient May Day celebration, is especially vivid. Along the way, the author also artfully embroiders the novel with plenty of historical, cultural, and even religious context; for example, after a fight with a Russian warrior that partly hinges on the definition of the term “Viking,” Thorkell announces to his men, “We can either be Vikings or vassals of Rome, never both.”

An impressive and intricate novel that’s rich in character and full of action.

Pub Date: March 12, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 420

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 44

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

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

Did you like this book?

THE NIGHT CIRCUS

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

Did you like this book?

more