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A gripping and swiftly paced mystical tale primed for a sequel.

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Two young men in Africa confront a strange, frightening world of sorcery and spirits in this fantasy debut.

It’s been Kobenan Jean Marc’s dream to work with S-cell, the covert organization that “chases sorcerers.” Now, the 20-year-old African, the main analyst for the president of Côte d’Esperance, has his chance. The president enlists Kobenan to investigate a case with S-cell’s head, Biafle Herbert. It involves the death of a White minister in Brazil—from a heart attack that some attribute to African sorcery. Biafle and Kobenan start at Sector 0, a prison housing “the deadliest sorcerers, djinns, and lost spirits.” Kobenan is convinced one inmate, who predicted the minister’s death, is somehow connected to the possible murder. The investigators’ only option, it seems, is getting the prisoner’s help—by breaking him out of Sector 0. At the same time, 17-year-old African student Kouadio Joel has for years observed creatures that no one else can see. When one day he spots some of these beings fixated on a fellow classmate, he intervenes. These vicious creatures apparently retaliate by attacking Joel and his family at home and abducting a loved one. His search for this family member takes Joel to a forest teeming with otherworldly entities and spirits harnessing incredible powers. Kobenan and Biafle, with the prison escapee in tow, wind up in the forest as well, looking for a formidable sorcerer who may have answers. Though specifics are murky, a war is brewing, and Joel’s surreal new road ultimately intersects with the S-cell investigators’ path.

Yessoh’s riveting series opener moves at a steady clip. Even when scenes linger on the environment, readers continually learn more about the characters and the developing plot. For example, as Kobenan slowly walks through Sector 0 for the first time, he sees bizarre creatures (both inmates and guards) inside a seemingly inescapable prison. The novel’s action comes in exhilarating bursts, from Kobenan and Biafle’s fleeing alarmingly fast “prison dogs” to Joel’s facing off against ferocious beings. This furthermore showcases illustrative prose: “The hand on his face is not budging. Joel sharply pulls and jolts his head from the harsh grip. After a frenetic drag on the large shadow over him, Joel stares before him with wide eyes and disturbed, shortened gasps. There lies the fetish of wood, inert, devoid of red eyes, posing with its extended hand like a statue.” Kobenan and Joel, whose narrative perspectives alternate, are amiable leads; they selflessly confront danger to help others. Many supporting characters flaunt their unpredictability, as sorcerers, djinns, and spirits are both good and evil. In the same vein, the story gradually introduces mysteries. Beyond the death in Brazil, Kobenan and Joel may have surprising abilities of their own. But parts of the tale are intentionally vague, and the author leaves several unresolved questions by the end, presumably saving them for the sequel. While it’s disappointing certain characters’ fates remain unresolved, readers’ anticipation for the second installment will surely soar. The uncredited, black-and-white artwork throughout features myriad details, including some characters against plain backdrops with serene facial expressions.

A gripping and swiftly paced mystical tale primed for a sequel.

Pub Date: April 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77755-941-0

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Library and Archive Canada

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2021

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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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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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