Intent: A Review of Blood Like Magic, by Liselle Sambury

            Witchcraft in fiction is an incredible variable, mutable tool in storytelling, although not every fantasy story, or story with magic present, contains witchcraft.  It is one of those things where no one can agree on a single definition, aside from witches mostly being female or female led.  Even region of the world has its own folklore regarding witches, going back thousands of years.  In some, witches are benevolent, helping their communities with potions and spells.  In others, witches made deals with the devil in the pursuit of power and influence.  While authors do pull on some of that, depending on where they decide to set their stories, the lack of a single definition of witchcraft allows writers to create new takes on it, iterating and innovating from story to story. 

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Chosen: A Review of Cast in Secrets and Shadow, by Andrea Robertson

            One of the oldest genres, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is the coming-of-age story.  A tale concerned with the transitions between eras of life.  Child to teenager, teenager to young adult, young adult to adult.  People are constantly changing and, hopefully, maturing as they grow older, and we all have stories that exemplify these transitional spaces.  Within storytelling, there are so many ways to handle this story, and it has been handled by nearly every author throughout history.  Characters spend the arcs of their stories learning from their experiences, ending the story wiser than they began.  There can be starts and stops across the journey, as we are all familiar with the concept that we have become our perfect selves, only for that notion to be proven false very quickly.  Sometimes, there are even characters who believe to have found the correct path, only to require course correction from a trusted voice.

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Rage: A Review of Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao

Revolution has always been a major theme across literature, and nearly every young adult novel features the concept in some way.  Stories are full of characters challenging the status quo and pushing back against injustice.  However, there is usually a limit, a disconnect, which separates the injustices on the page from the injustices in the real world.  Mainstream readers can enjoy a series such as The Hunger Games without connecting the dots between the world in the novels to the real world.  Whenever a book comes along that does challenge its readers to think critically about our own reality and history, there can be hesitancy.  Publishers do not think it would sell well, publicists worry about potential backlash, and more.  Yet, there is an audience for literature such as that, literature that combines entertainment with real revolution, and that audience is getting larger and more vocal every year, hungry for more.

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Class President: A Review of The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik

Telling a serialized story—a story where each installment is explicitly connected to the next, forming a cohesive tale across multiple chapters—is nothing new to the world of books, especially for those of us who read fantasy or science-fiction.  This format has also been steadily taking over the world of television shows and movies to the point where, when a movie ends, watchers immediately start asking about the sequel.  The concept of a serialized story also pairs well with the cliffhanger, where a book ends upon a revelation, twist, or in the middle of a conflict.  While this format can make it appear daunting for new people to get into the story if they arrive late, it also serves to hook readers and keep them invested and excited for each new chapter.  Naomi Novik’s latest novel certainly keeps us wanting more.

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Spycraft and Romance: A Review of Capture the Crown, by Jennifer Estep

There is an art to be found when crafting a sequel, a careful balance to be struck, which I talked about in several opening paragraphs in other reviews.  When it comes to creating not just a sequel, but a sequel series, however, that requires a completely different skillset and outlook.  Sometimes, after a series has concluded the story it wished to tell, there is room for additional stories.  Many authors will shift focus to a different character or a different region of their world entirely.  Often, the writer employs a time jump, catching up to characters and worlds many years after the original ending.  When writing a sequel series, a careful balance must be struck; a balance between retaining old readers and drawing in new ones.  Tip that balance, and you risk alienating one or both of these groups.  For the perfect example, look no farther than the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  The first movie, The Force Awakens, achieved this balance easily, introducing new characters and keeping one or two old ones.  However, the final movie, The Rise of Skywalker, wrapped itself in misplace nostalgia to everyone’s detriment, creating a finale that satisfied no one.  The balance was not maintained.

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Heroes of the Ward: A Review of Realm Breaker, by Victoria Aveyard

Stopping, or surviving, the end of the world has become standard fare in fiction, from novels to movies, that it is essentially its own trope now.  A quick and easy way to set enormous stakes and justify any action set piece one could think of.  However, despite the proliferation of this plot building block, or maybe because of it, the end of the world is actually a rather difficult plot to pull off and keep your audience invested.  As seen in many movies, once the stakes become too big, too large scale, it can be hard to empathize with the widespread destruction seen on screen.  This trend is not even unique to fiction.  It is more difficult for humans to empathize with large-scale tragedies simply because they are too big to make sense of.  However, just like in real world news coverage, there is a way to keep people interested and invested when plotting and end of the world story; make it personal.

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Unending Legacy: A Review of Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho

We are all, regardless of background, part of an unending legacy, stretching back generations.  In some cases, those legacies are so intertwined with a specific place that they never branch out, never travel.  But, in other cases, those legacies spread across the globe.  Anyone from an immigrant family can attest to this feeling, of belonging to a culture or people that did not originate wherever you live.  For some immigrants, they try to hold onto this legacy and culture wherever they move, creating distinct communities within communities.  Others, however, prefer to do their best to assimilate—a process we call Americanization in this country—and allow their children to grow up as full members of their new nation.  But that does not erase the legacy that follows those children of immigrants, sometimes resulting in a situation where the children feel out of place everywhere they go.

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Thinking Machine: A Review of This Golden Flame, by Emily Victoria

One common trope in science-fiction is the existence of technology so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic.  However, the reverse can also be found in fiction whenever a writer wants to create a fantasy world, but still include a technological element that would not otherwise be possible.  Enter magical technology, or magic indistinguishable from technology aside from being fueled by magic instead of electricity or another power source.  Maybe an author wants to include an airship in their high fantasy setting, but does not want technology to be too advanced.  Or they want a medieval-like setting to have access to something like a computer or search engine.  Whatever the apparatus, this allows authors to get inventive with the magic in their book, imagining how it can fuel a society.  However, this trend can run up against the rick of breaking immersion whenever readers start to wonder why the characters just do not use the actual technology instead of magic.

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Death of the Gods: A Review of The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec

Norse mythology may be more popular than ever at the moment, in no small part due to the influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the versions of Thor and Loki we see in the movies are far from their historic portrayals.  While we call it a mythology, on part with Greek or Japanese mythology, what we know of the religion of the Vikings was not written down until after Christianity had already converted the population.  As opposed to the Greeks, who recorded their tales in the forms of poems or plays, the Norse only left behind a few glyphs or runic art pieces in their wake.  But the two written sources we do have, the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson and the Poetic Edda by numerous anonymous authors, paint a picture of the gods unlike their modern counterparts.  Like the gods of ancient Greece, the gods of the Norse were fallible.  They were corrupt and vain and jealous, capable of great cruelty and constantly making mistakes.  These cultures worshiped gods very similar to mortals, with all of their flaws, and they were not heroes.

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Outlaw to Sheriff: A Review of Spellmaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Writing a sequel is always a unique problem for an author as it is usually a self-inflicted one.  It is easy to approach a story with the idea that the complete tale will be told in one book, and most authors do choose to go this route.  But there is something about the fantasy and science-fiction genres especially that draw writers towards creating more.  Usually, this is a net win for the audience, as we want to spend as much time as possible in an author’s imagination if the first book draws us in.  I have put down many books wishing that the story had not ended with the last page.  But, sometimes, the sequel does not quite live up to the expectations set by the first entry.  A sequel needs to both provide a continuation and a satisfying payoff to elements set up by the first book.  A mystery or conflict may be enjoyable while it is ongoing, but if the resolution is not satisfying, then the entire whole can suffer.

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