A promising start for a planned fantasy series that capably handles both politics and magic.

XANDON AND THE KING'S SCEPTER

A middle-grade fantasy adventure story about a gifted boy who trains to be a knight and gets entangled in a murder mystery.

Life is a series of toils for 12-year-old Xandon, an orphan and servant for a wealthy, cruel family in the kingdom of Avondale. His only respite is his warm relationship with animals, including a Berune tiger named Kumata, whose death opens the narrative. Shortly afterward, Xandon sees a wisp, a magical entity that’s said to be a spiritual messenger—and a bad omen for those who see it, and the young boy leaves his farm life behind to train in a guild as a knight, helping him avoid the new compulsory conscription laws passed by the power-hungry Prince Val Haruk. En route to his new life, he meets a young woman named Persephone whose mother, a powerful Archmage of the kingdom of Avondale, sponsored his entry into the guild. The pair become fast friends, and debut author Vonn Beck, in this series starter, uses their relationship to usher readers into the wider world and mythos he’s constructed, as Persephone explains elements of the kingdom and the way magic functions to Xandon, hinting that although the young boy may not be a mage, he’s most certainly “something” unusual. The account of Xandon’s training regimen goes on a bit too long and slows the narrative momentum. However, things pick up after a killing occurs in the guild hall, and the resulting mystery shifts the novel into an intriguing new register as Xandon becomes a suspect. Throughout, the protagonist is a likable character who seems ambitious, bright, and curious, and Vonn Beck unveils the wider political machinations at play in a deft and creative manner. When Xandon meets the wily Prince Val Haruk, who tries to draw the young man into his dark schemes, the story truly hits its stride. Taut action scenes, particularly toward the book’s climax, show off the author’s talent for depicting realistic combat without getting bogged down in clichés.

A promising start for a planned fantasy series that capably handles both politics and magic.

Pub Date: July 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-7332735-4-1

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Redgate Publishing Guild LLC

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A sequel that repeats the mistakes of its predecessor while failing to break new ground.

THE LAST GRADUATE

A teenage witch with a natural affinity for dark magic prepares to run a deadly graduation gauntlet in this sequel to Novik's Deadly Education (2020).

Galadriel "El" Higgins has finally reached her senior year at the Scholomance, putting her one step closer to her ultimate goal: get back home or die trying. After getting a sneak peek at the monster-packed hallway she must survive if she wants to graduate, the witchy teen returns to her classes and cliques with scarcely more insight than before. El knows enough to realize that her mana stores are a fraction of what they should be—come graduation, she will lack the magical juice she needs to kill monsters and make it out alive. Her fake-dating relationship with Orion proves to be a lucky "in," netting her a new string of tenuous alliances as well as access to a wellspring of free mana. But what could be a compelling adventure story falls apart here, as the novel relies on relentless bouts of infodumping to keep readers up to speed on where the Scholomance's monsters come from and what they can do to unsuspecting students. None of these paragraphs-long blasts of information recount the details of El's last excursion, however, and so readers who have forgotten Novik's previous novel, or who have never read it at all, will find no springboard ready to help them dive into the author's newest offering. Those who stumble upon this volume risk being unmoored, as the narrative picks up immediately following the events of its predecessor, without stopping to introduce anything, including the narrator. Ultimately, El's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of every monster in the school, combined with her continued refusal to enter into any genuine alliance with classmates, leaves readers to wonder what she could possibly have left to learn—or fear—in the Scholomance.

A sequel that repeats the mistakes of its predecessor while failing to break new ground.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12886-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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