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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Destroyer: A Review of The Burning God, by R. F. Kuang

Not every story requires a happy ending, the kind of ending where the main characters walk off into the sunset.  The type of ending where the plot has been neatly wrapped up with the villains defeated.  Peace reigns, and the book ends tidily, trying to leave readers with a sense of satisfaction.  However, entertainment is not limited to just that type of ending, and it can also be satisfying to see a book or series reach its most logical conclusion.  We want to complete a book and feel the overwhelming emotion that the author wishes to depart, even if that emotion is sadness, for sadness itself can be cathartic. 

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Dangerous School Days: A Review of A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik

There are few staples in fantasy fiction more widespread than magic school.  From ancient folklore to modern day novels, the idea of school where people can go to learn magic possesses a timeless appeal.  A place of the absolute highest learning, magic schools were once thought to be places where only the most wizened of philosophers could learn.  Modern fiction, however, draws more from boarding and high school culture.  It is a way to immediately connect a story to a younger audience which is likely currently in school, or recently graduated.  The magic school has become an incredibly mainstream and widespread concept as well, appearing in all Dungeons and Dragons settings, as well as featuring in novel series such as The Kingkiller Chronicles.  But the settings appeal extends beyond Western fiction, with many anime and manga, such as Negima! and Little Witch Academia, taking place in magic schools as well.  However, few schools of the arcane arts are more legendary than the Scholomance.

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One Flesh, One End: A Review of Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

There are no other books quite like Harrow the Ninth.  The second novel in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb trilogy following Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth seemingly follows the conventions of a sequel while consistently turning things on their heads at every opportunity.  As the second story in a trilogy, audiences come in with a certain expectation.  Where the first book is meant to set up the characters and the overarching plot, it still ends in an apparent victory.  The second book need to expand the world, introduce new mysteries, and provide a lead-up to the third and final chapter.  Harrow the Ninth does do this, but not in any expected way.  Instead, it creates a mood piece focusing intimately on our main heroine as she navigates a wholly unfamiliar world out to destroy her at every turn.  Many questions are asked, some are answered, but Muir never loses sight of the story she wants to tell.

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Black Ring Match: A Review of Crush the King, by Jennifer Estep

I have talked endlessly about the power of fantasy novels on this blog, and will continue to do so as long as this genre maintains its unique power.  Fantasy is about all about creation and imagination, allowing readers to inhabit worlds wholly unlike our own.  It is a measure of escapism that other literary genres can only dream of.  Free from the pretentiousness of literary fiction, and liberated from the need for explanation in science-fiction, fantasy authors set their own rules in each new story.  Crush the King is the third and latest novel in Jennifer Estep’s wonderful Crown of Shards series, preceded by Kill the Queen and Protect the Prince.  Few would call this story literary fiction, but few series are more fun to read that the adventures of Everleigh “Evie” Saffira Winter Blair.

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Immortal Cavalier: A Review of Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Science-fiction and fantasy may appear to be very different genres at first glance.  Once is full of advanced technologies, with a focus on scientific progress and how that works within the setting.  Fantasy focuses on magic and oftentimes breaking the rules of the physical world in the pursuit of power.  However, the two are full of more similarities than differences.  Both can take place on Earth, or on another world.  The world can have creatures other than humans, be they aliens or elves.  Fantasy can sometimes show technology powered by magic, while highly advanced technology can sometimes appear indistinguishable from magic depending on who witnesses it.  Popular franchises such as Warhammer, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and even Star Wars, all find compelling ways to blend genres.  Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, blends science-fiction and fantasy in a wonderfully gruesome way.

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Soul Flight: A Review of The Nightjar, by Deborah Hewitt

Fantasy is a malleable genre, with one of the more popular variations in the last several decades being the urban fantasy.  Combining the realism of our magic free world with the trappings of high fantasy has proven to be a fascinating juxtaposition.  Imagine a seedy mob-run nightclub in a bustling city, serving a clientele of elves and ogres.  Goblins operate as drug runners and wizards assist the police with investigative magic.  With urban fantasy, the two worlds may be completely combined, or kept separate through shadowy cabals or government organizations.  The fantasy elements may also be as high or as low as the author wishes.  While The Dresden Files may be one of the more famous examples of low urban fantasy, other authors are rising up to take its place.  The Nightjar, by Deborah Hewitt, is one such novel.

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Redeemer: A Review of The Dragon Republic, by R. F. Kuang

A certain amount of pressure is placed on an author’s second novel, especially when the first novel gains the level of attention and acclaim of R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War.  A second novel, whether it be the second ever or the second in a series, is expected to be better written than its predecessor.  A second novel is expected to have a better understanding of plot, of its characters, and of its readers’ expectations.  A second novel is expected to improve upon the first in every conceivable way.  This is easier said than done for most authors, and is easier to accomplish in the beginning of a career, where there is still learning to be done.  The longer an author writes, the more series, they craft, the greater the risk of sequelitis setting in.  Sometimes, the second story is worse than the first.  The Dragon Republic, R. F. Kuang’s second novel, is a sequel done absolutely right.

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