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 dark and devastating conclusion that transcends its roots in historical fact to examine brutal truths.

THE BURNING GOD

In the final installment of the Poppy War trilogy, a warrior shaman resolves to seize control of her homeland from enemies far and near, no matter the cost.

Having suffered severe losses and betrayals, Rin rallies the Southern Coalition in an effort to defeat the Mugenese troops still in Nikan, the president of the Nikara Republic, and the foreign menace of the Hesperians, with their almost unimaginably advanced technology. But a southern army is not enough, and Rin must also rely on the unpredictable powers of her wild god, the Phoenix, and form a risky alliance with the Trifecta that once ruled Nikan. Drawing heavily on 20th-century Chinese history, Kuang continues to explore familiar themes—including imperialism, racism, colorism, and the terrible and long-lasting effects of war—while deepening Rin’s portrayal, as Rin experiences moments of heartfelt sympathy and connection with others while also continually seeking power and succumbing over and over to her own hubris and paranoia. This installment dwells heavily on the devastating realities of war and the costs of leading a nation in crisis but does not sink into overly grotesque meditations—or perhaps we, along with Rin, have become desensitized and hardened. Ultimately, despite the epic scope of the plot, the novel hinges on the relationships between Rin and those closest to her: A nation may rise or fall and thousands may lose their homes or starve in the process, but their fate depends not on magic from the divine plane but on simple, fallible people.

A dark and devastating conclusion that transcends its roots in historical fact to examine brutal truths. (Map, Dramatis Personae)

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266262-0

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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