A vibrant, textured, and exciting admixture of subgenres that do not often play together.

KAGEN THE DAMNED

In the first of a series, epic fantasy blends with eldritch horror and folklore as a man seeks vengeance for the destruction of an empire.

Kagen Vale, sworn protector of the young heirs of the Silver Empress, awakens from a night of debauchery to discover himself naked and weaponless as the forces of the long-defeated Hakkians slaughter the royal family and conquer the Silver Empire in the course of a single night. Tormented by his failure to save his charges and by a vision of his nation’s gods literally turning their backs on him, the apparently damned man wanders the countryside in a drunken and murderous haze while nursing vengeance against the usurping Witch-king, a sorcerer and disciple of Hastur, the sinister Shepherd God. Both the Witch-king and a desperate rebellious cabal are seeking Kagen, the former to capture and humiliate him, the latter because they believe Kagen is key to defeating the Witch-king, whose ambitions threaten the whole world. Meanwhile, having lost the protection of their destroyed empire’s faith, two nuns seek the help of other, older gods. Lovecraft-ian pastiche remains a popular, some might say overused, subgenre, but it’s usually presented in a more contemporary or recent historical setting rather than a high fantasy milieu as it is here. Maberry also blends in the mythology of Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow as well as references to Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott” and Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” While it’s difficult to garner any sympathy for the Witch-king and the gruesome god he serves, the author offers a shades-of-gray approach to most of the story, suggesting that not all the worshippers of the other Great Old Ones are evil, that the Hakkians had at least some justification for rising up against the Silver Empire, and that the Silver Empire’s seemingly gentle Garden faith had some fairly ruthless underpinnings. Various characters warn Kagen and the reader that things are not always as they appear, and one of the stunning revelations at the end should probably be obvious, but that foreknowledge doesn’t prevent the novel’s thrilling denouement from striking like a hammer blow.

A vibrant, textured, and exciting admixture of subgenres that do not often play together.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-78397-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

THE ATLAS SIX

Dangerous intrigues and deadly secrets swirl around six ambitious young magicians competing for entry into a secret society.

In a world very much like our own, except that a certain percentage of humanity is born with magical powers, six extraordinarily gifted people in their 20s are invited to train for membership in the Alexandrian Society, which has carefully and somewhat surreptitiously preserved centuries of priceless knowledge since the (apparent) burning of the Library of Alexandria. At the end of one year, five of the six will be initiated into the Society, and the reader won’t be surprised to learn that the sixth person isn’t allowed to quietly return home. As the year advances, the candidates explore the limits of their unique powers and shift their alliances, facing threats and manipulations from both within and outside of their circle. For most of its length, the book appears to be a well-written but not especially revolutionary latecomer to the post–Harry Potter collection of novels featuring a darker and more cynical approach to magical education; these books include Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra, and Lev Grossman’s Magicians series. Blake also offers a significant dash of the older subgenre of students joining a mystical cult requiring a sacrifice, as in Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon and Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls. The character-building is intense and intriguing—such an interior deep dive is practically de rigueur for a story of this type, which depends on self-discovery—but the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere surprising. Then, the book's climax devastatingly reveals that Blake was holding her cards close to the vest all along, delicately hinting at a wider plot which only opens up fully—or almost fully—at the end, when it shoves the reader off a cliff to wait for the next book.

A well-constructed prelude to what promises to be an interesting series.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-85451-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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