Blood and Bond
The Shield holds. Or does it? Reports of attacks by Ryuven keep humans in fear as they try to determine how their defenses failed. Blood and Bond is the second novel in Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Shard of Elan series. Book 2 picks up as Luca, Shianan, Tamaryl, and Ariana pursue their various quests. Their stakes are even higher, as they strive to do what is right despite conflicting goals. Luca struggles with being home, Tamaryl fights for his people, Shianan strives for acceptance, and Ariana labors to bring peace between humans and Ryuven. They’ll find no perfect solution, and betrayals abound on all sides. This book is brilliant and engaging, expanding on the series’ world and characters while building its own plot—offering resolution while leaving yet more threads to unravel in the next book.
Best for: Fans who love epic fantasy and want to be drawn into an ongoing series.
Discern: Some violence and death, and references to sex and sexual assault.
Dark is the Night
In a moonlit South Carolina swamp, a werewolf bites vampire hunter Skata. That’s okay, because Skata takes wolfsbane for just such emergencies. Mirriam Neal’s Dark is the Night keeps the punches and the fangs rolling. This pits Skata against the vampire who turned his wife and forces him to ask: are all vampires wholly evil? An old friend fighting beside Skata faces her need to forgive. A pastor stakes his claim on preaching grace to his enemies. And a vampire cares more deeply than he thirsts. Neal casts all characters as complete persons, no matter their time spent on the page. Humor and hope lighten the burden of heavy themes of war against the night. Unanswered questions and a teasing epilogue leave readers eager for the next installment.
Best for: Teen and adult fans of Supernatural and/or The Vampire Diaries, and fans of vampire or werewolf stories.
Discern: Scattered swearing; scenes of violence and its aftermath, such as torture, murder, and child endangerment; a pastor preaches grace to vampires (while also battling vampires and werewolves) and picks locks during an investigation.
The Eternal Struggle
Valoretta, the Queen of Mira, has seen the end of Mira. Arnacin, an idealist in pursuit of a hero’s story, has seen the end of his idealism. What does one do when one reaches the end? In their case, they continue. Esther Wallace’s novel The Eternal Struggle forms a dark sequel to The Savage War. She brings hero and heroine into close fellowship with loss and brutality, with only half-believed hope to relieve the darkness. The story wanders through diverse and memorable territory, most notably a pirates’ island and a terrible prison. Arnacin and Valoretta feel passive through much of it, and the story occasionally reflects this lack of direction. Although this darkness will be too much for some readers, others will be intrigued by the moral struggle and colorful scenes of The Eternal Struggle.
Best for: Fans of fantasy and dark fiction.
Discern: Multiple battles and executions; violence toward defenseless people, including children; a siege leads to severe suffering, including starvation, suicide, and allusions to cannibalism; implied rape.
Flight of the Raven
The Raven has flown from its castle and is hiding with the enemy in Flight of the Raven, the middle chapter of Morgan L. Busse’s Ravenwood Saga series. Book 2 follows Selene Ravenwood as she faces the consequences of betraying her family, while she struggles to discover the truth behind her dreamwalking gift, and the purpose of using these powers for good. Exciting twists make Flight a very enjoyable read, although it feels less intense than the first book’s action and drama. By the end, however, Selene’s enemies make a move that will change everything Selene knows and challenge everything she believes.
Best for: Teen and young adult fantasy fans.
Discern: Some violence and death, and some references to sex.
Fugue for the Sacred Songbook: In Eb Minor
Dissonance begs for resolution. Fugue for the Sacred Songbook: In Eb Minor resumes the tune from the previous book in Keith A. Robinson’s Master Symphony Trilogy. This time, heroes are taken captive and transported to a very unfriendly place, and their allies must orchestrate their rescue. But even this rescue may be used against them. Robinson again depicts music as a powerful force in this otherworldly universe, used as means to fight, manipulate, heal, and brainwash. Though some characters struggle with right and wrong, most seem to fit solidly in categories of either very good or very bad. Fugue for the Sacred Songbook plays a lyrical read, though without much subtlety regarding the author’s ideas.
Best for: Adult readers.
Discern: A particular culture takes pleasure in causing people pain and suffering; some scenes portray severe and even violent discord between family members.
Gretchen and the Bear
What do you get when you retell the Goldilocks fable, blended with elements of Cinderella, and set the story in a distant future? Gretchen and the Bear by Carrie Anne Noble does this, exploring how humanity returns from orbital habitats. They find that not only has the post-apocalyptic earth regenerated—but so have the fey folk. This delightful fantasy/sci-fi mashup defies every expectation. Its “little bear” character is actually a dutiful were-bear son to religious bear-folk parents, and the hardworking heroine takes a dangerous mission into the forbidden Fey Land, motivated by love for her ailing father whose fate seems sealed by her greedy stepmother. Subtle linguistic allusions further elevate this novel within its unique subgenre. Twists, turns, and shockingly dramatic moments abound, and Gretchen and the Bear leaves the fairy tale flavor lingering in the palate.
Best for: Readers who love intelligent plotting, witty wordplay, and fairy tales.
Discern: Mild violence, references to poisoning, romantic innuendo, were-bear transformations.
The Hourglass and the Darkness
When objects fall to Earth from space, it’s probably best to avoid getting too close to them. In The Hourglass and the Darkness, a pre-Flood high-tech past begins playing havoc with the present, and events may even lead to the beginning of the biblical end times. Kyle L. Elliott’s book posits a world before the great Flood, where spiritual power was combined with something like computer technology. This convergence has even created an artificial intelligence. Now, after a few thousand years, the AI is thinking on her own and wonders if there is something better than her programming. Meanwhile in the present day, human curiosity and spiritual forces are hastening potentially apocalyptic events. The Hourglass and the Darkness sparks a stellar start to what promises to be an intriguing series.
Best for: Older readers.
Discern: Quite a bit of alcohol consumed in the story’s modern sections.
The Icarus Aftermath
Star Wars–style space opera meets the Greek myth of Icarus in Arielle M. Bailey’s The Icarus Aftermath. Icarus, the Rebellion’s greatest pilot, has fallen to the Labyrinth, a planetary defense system that will cement Krete’s stranglehold on galactic trade routes. Following this loss, Icarus’ secret fiancée Koralia finally joins the Rebellion. But she must hide her connection to Icarus because someone close to Icarus betrayed him, leading to his death. Koralia and Icarus’s found family of Sunfire pilots must rally to achieve his last goal: destroy the Labyrinth. Can Koralia navigate this maze of relationships and secrets without losing the family of the man she loved? And will the traitor be found before more pilots fall? Arielle Bailey spins a golden yarn of vivid characters and gripping emotion, set in a world ripe for exploration in further Sunfire Saga.
Best for: Teen and adult fans of Star Wars, Greek/Roman mythology, space opera, and found-family dynamics.
Discern: Mild language, including fictional swear words; frank discussions of Olympian affairs; some violence, including multiple character deaths; scenes of blood, anxiety attacks, and sexual tension.
Legend of the Storm Sneezer
When your magic is so unstable that it accidentally causes electrical fires, even your home and school might rethink their welcome. In Legend of the Storm Sneezer by Kristiana Sfirlea, eleven-year-old Rose meets another magical misfit, and feels at home. But this unsettled haunt of mystery is surrounded by a petrified forest full of unhappy ghosts and zombies. Can Rose and Marek bring peace? Letters from their future time-traveling selves offer clues and humor in the nick of time, while the story hints at a creator God and shows recurring themes of self-sacrifice.
Best for: Teen readers fond of lengthy, lighthearted ghost-and-zombie tales.
Discern: Rose’s depiction as an “angel,” basically a human with wings, may differ from Scripture’s portrayal of non-human ministering spirits.
What Tellie truly wants and has always wanted is a family. What she gets, after she stumbles into elves in the forest, is a peculiar glowing necklace and a commission to find a lost prince—and maybe, at the end of it all, a family too. In Moonscript, H. S. J. Williams creates a classic fantasy, complete with elves and quests and dark lords, and deeply weaves strong spiritual element into the world. Williams avoids the error, common among some authors, of making overly precocious child characters. Her fourteen-year-old heroine is suitably young in behavior yet charming. Other characters lend colorful support. Some may find the story’s resolution too easy, but Moonscript is an illuminating fantasy with charming characters and strong spirituality.
Best for: Young adult readers; fans of fantasy and Anne Elisabeth Stengl.
Discern: Several battles include violent deaths, implied torture, slavery, and children are kidnapped and used as hostages.
A tiny heroine finds big adventure in R. J. Anderson’s Nomad, book 2 of the Flight and Flame Trilogy series. It follows Ivy’s adventures as she explores the greater world, learns more about her gifts as a child of piskeys and fairies, and makes new friends as well as a powerful enemy. Her efforts to help her piskey clan appear largely thankless, and she becomes embroiled in the convoluted past of her companion Martin. Developments and discoveries abound, though as befitting the middle book of a trilogy, fans will find little resolution so far. Overall, Nomad is a rollicking read with fascinating conflicts and plot twists that should be very satisfying to those who enjoyed the first book, Swift.
Best for: Young adults and older readers.
Discern: Some fighting and violence, including one character severely injured on purpose by another character.
A fiery and brutal war between dragons and humans has raged for generations. Both sides’ warriors wield physical and psychic attacks. Each side believes the other is full of brutal killers bent on annihilation, and each is determined to win at all costs. But one woman has the gift, or curse, of being able to sense dragon emotions and pain. She desperately wants to stop the war, but how can she unravel hundreds of years of animosity by herself? Songflight, by Michelle M. Bruhn, tells the gripping story of Alísa, a Dragon Singer who is misunderstood by both races but whose powers may be the key to uniting them, if she can learn how to use them correctly. But learning requires giving up everything she knows and loves, and there are no guarantees in a battle where individual choices can change everything.
Best for: Lovers of fantasy and dragons.
Discern: Violence as well as heavy concepts like killing for the greater good and personal responsibility.
What say you?