An exciting and complex tale with memorable characters, standout battle scenes, and riveting worldbuilding.

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HOURGLASS

An aspiring comic-book artist and the ghost of his best friend join a fight against soul-seeking private military contractors in James’ fantasy novel.

Twenty-something freelance artist Clyde Williams dreams of drawing comics but so far has collected nothing but rejections. He shares his Brooklyn apartment with Kevin “Kev” Carpenter, who’s been his best pal for 20 years—and for the last two months, he’s been a ghost. Shot to death in a liquor-store robbery, Kev simply appeared to Clyde as an apparition afterward and stuck around (although he refuses to serve as Clyde’s “ghost writer”). Both friends feel as if they’re at an impasse—so when Agent Rose Hadfield knocks on their door, the pair hear her out. She works for Hourglass, a black-ops government department that trains ghosts, or “Post-Life Entities” like Kev, and their physical anchors, like Clyde, to take on unusual threats. Clyde, whose father and brother both died in combat, despises the military but agrees to accompany Kev to Hourglass for training. The friends learn all kinds of fighting tactics as well as information about Erebus, the land of the dead that’s also called “the Null”: “There are no pearly gates, no kingdoms of clouds, or 72 virgins,” explains an Hourglass trainer. Meanwhile, the wealthy, powerful, and clandestine Cairnwood Society is planning a raid on Erebus from its Brooklyn warehouse in order to harvest souls and monetize them—maybe as energy, maybe as weapons. The strike force needs a guide, so Cairnwood has coerced Konstantin Kozlov, a Russian monk and ghost anchor who’s been to Erebus before, into service. For his part, Konstantin hopes to find the Firmament Needle, which he believes “could stitch together a heavenly Paradise.” A showdown in hell, and in New York City, awaits all the players in this game, with the fate of many souls hanging in the balance.

James, in his first fantasy work, tells a story that’s bursting its seams with imaginative ideas, backstory, combat scenes, and developing relationships. It’s a little slow to get started, but once it does, readers will be drawn deep into this well-developed world—or rather, worlds. These include such arcane elements as Konstantin’s Rising Path sect, the hellish creatures of Erebus, evil capitalists, and the comic-book subculture. Similarly, Clyde and Kev provide emotional ballast among so much that’s unusual and extraordinary; indeed, Clyde serves as an anchor in more ways than one. His relatable struggle over whether he should join the battle connects directly with his family history, and the descriptions of his artwork’s visual impact help prepare readers for the novel’s bravura training and battle scenes. The latter are densely choreographed with verve, intelligence, and plenty of operatic (or maybe comic book–like) action. Even the names of Erebus’ nine territories are evocative, such as The House of Fading Light, The House of Silent Screams, and The House of Cold Stars. With Konstantin’s quest incomplete at the end, readers will likely want a second volume.

An exciting and complex tale with memorable characters, standout battle scenes, and riveting worldbuilding.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-68-891068-1

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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Absolutely superb.

A RADICAL ACT OF FREE MAGIC

Leaders of Britain’s abolitionist movement join forces with a veteran of the Haitian revolution to push back Napoleon’s deadly forces in Parry’s second Shadow Histories novel.

Napoléon Bonaparte isn’t a particularly talented magician, but his potential as a general and conqueror attracts the attention of the same mysterious figure who manipulated Robespierre to set off the Reign of Terror in A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians (2020). When Bonaparte summons a kraken to serve the French navy and later finds a dragon hidden in the sands of Egypt, it’s only a matter of time before France and Europe fall at his feet. William Pitt, meanwhile, is growing weaker by the day as he works to keep a deadly and dangerous magical secret from his enemies. William Wilberforce continues to fight for abolition but is stymied at every turn. Fina uses her magic to help Toussaint Louverture keep hold of Saint-Domingue, but she eventually makes the journey to London and meets Pitt and Wilberforce. With a first-rate blend of political drama and magic battle–action, Parry manages to inject tension and stakes into a historical drama where average readers will know at least the broad strokes of the ending. Effortlessly switching from France to England to Egypt to Saint-Domingue, Parry folds in show-stopping new characters like Kate Dove, a commoner weather mage dead-set on avenging her brother’s death by kraken, and Lady Hester Stanhope, who would become one of the most famous explorers of the 19th century. When the three main characters, Fina, Pitt, and Wilberforce, finally face off with the stranger, the resulting conflict brings the series’ meditations on idealism, the fight for human rights, and the necessary limits of institutional power to a head.

Absolutely superb.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-45915-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Redhook/Orbit

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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