Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring on laughing gas.

KILL THE FARM BOY

A rollicking fantasy adventure that upends numerous genre tropes in audacious style, the first installment of Dawson and Hearne’s Tales of Pell series is a laugh-out-loud-funny fusion of Monty Python–esque humor and whimsy à la Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Worstley is a lowly farm boy who reeks of feces and angst. But when a nose-picking pixie informs him that he's the Chosen One and that he has a destiny, he sets off with a talking billy goat named Gustave to fulfill his glorious fate. Fia is a 7-foot tall warrioress who wears a chain-mail bikini and is on a quest of her own: to locate a rare flower allegedly high up in a magical tower. Poltro, the Dark Lord’s inept huntswoman, who is deathly afraid of chickens, is sent to locate the Chosen One and bring his heart back to her master. Their paths eventually converge when Fia, attempting to climb the thorn-infested magic tower via a rope made of human hair, falls and lands on Worstley, quite possibly killing him. In an effort to somehow save his life, Fia takes the Chosen One’s body and climbs back up the tower, laying him in a bed next to a princess who has been magically sleeping for decades. While exiting the tower, Fia meets Argabella, a female bard who has been cursed to look like a giant bunny. After collecting a Sand Witch named Grinda and Toby, the Dark Lord (who wears a fanny pack), the group of misfits sets off to rid the kingdom of the evil genius behind the terrible curses. The overturning of so many hackneyed fantasy conventions is a delight, as are the countless puns and jokes. But the narrative momentum suffers at times because the authors are so focused on the humor.

Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring on laughing gas.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-9774-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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