A reasonable start, on the whole; let’s see where the series goes.

THE GRACE OF KINGS

From the Dandelion Dynasty series , Vol. 1

Liu’s stories have won most major critical science-fiction and fantasy awards. His first novel, inspired by the civil chaos stemming from the death of China’s first emperor, is poised to break him out to a more commercial audience.

The island nations of Dara only ceased warring with one another when King Réon of Xana conquered them and united them into an empire. But now the emperor is dead; his young, spoiled heir actively avoids ruling, and his power-hungry advisers are not up to the task, either. Old rivalries stir as various rebellions spring up. Chief among the rebels are two men of the old kingdom of Cocru: the sneaky, clever commoner-turned–able politician Kuni Garu and the deposed noble Mata Zyndu, an 8-foot-tall, double-pupiled warrior who values honor above all else. At first, Kuni and Mata are like brothers, but their ideological differences soon drive them apart. The epic fantasy genre can only be enriched by more novels drawing from non-Western traditions. Liu’s ambitious work expertly blends mythology, history, military tactics, and technological innovation (airships and submarines). There are plenty of excellent action scenes—the scene in which Kuni and his allies employ horned, scaled whales to attack an armada is particularly enjoyable. However, Liu’s characters could use a bit more texture; at times, they seem little more than puppets manipulated by Dara’s gods—or perhaps by the author: the novel is a door-stopper of an argument for the value of brains over brawn and flexible thinking over hidebound tradition. Liu’s plotting can also appear a bit thin and contrived; the outcomes of too many key battles hinge on one side contemptuously underestimating the other. Perhaps history bears Liu out on this point, but it doesn't make for convincing fiction.

A reasonable start, on the whole; let’s see where the series goes.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2427-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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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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