Compelling, complicated, and worthwhile.

THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN

A young woman from a desolate village and a disgraced prince must join together to save the kingdom from the prince’s violent, religious zealot of a half brother in Reid’s debut fantasy.

Évike, the only woman in her pagan village without magical abilities, is shunned and bullied because the gods have chosen not to grace her with power. So when members of the king’s Holy Order of Woodsmen make the perilous journey through the forest to take a “seer,” a pagan woman with the power to see the future, Évike is offered up as a substitute. The King, who represents the dominant, monotheistic state religion called the Patrifaith, steals a pagan woman every year to use as a blood sacrifice. Rather than lose someone with the power to foresee ruined crops and other dangers, Évike’s village is happy to send her to die instead. But when all the Woodsmen except their captain are killed off by forest monsters, Évike learns he is no ordinary Woodsman but Prince Bárány Gáspár himself. Gáspár is desperate to give his father, the King, a magical edge to a war he is currently losing. Otherwise, Gáspár’s despotic brother, Nándor, will have the chance at a hostile takeover, and if Nándor is on the throne, everyone outside the Patrifaith is in serious danger. That includes not just Évike’s village, but other groups like the Yehuli, who follow a lightly fictionalized version of Judaism and include Évike’s long-lost father. There is an overreliance on simile in the prose, and sometimes the action gets muddled, but overall this is an impressive debut. Reid’s academic background in ethnonationalist religious history is used to great effect here, and she shows how folklore is bent and twisted to fit the dominant culture of the moment. Reid wades thoughtfully into thorny conversations about religious persecution, identity, and personal sacrifice.

Compelling, complicated, and worthwhile.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297312-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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

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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

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12848-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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