Readers' Favorite

December 6, 2021

Don't Miss These Fantasy Books

by MK French

Are you looking for gift ideas for the fantasy reader on your list? Or perhaps you have some downtime coming up and you want an epic fantasy to lose yourself in. Either way, these last few fantasy new releases of 2021 will fit the bill. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Liar's Knot by M. A. Carrick

The Liar's Knot
December 2021; Orbit; 978-0316539715
ebook, print (672 pages); dark fantasy

House Indestor was destroyed, and the rest of Nadežra is hanging on by a thread. Derossi Vargo has sacrificed much to reach a position of power and will keep it at nearly any cost. Grey Serrado will do whatever he can to save the powerless in the city. Ren is trapped between her heritage and the lies binding her to the aristocracy. A web is stretched across the city, and it will be difficult to break themselves free.

The Liar's Knot is the second book of the Rook and Rose trilogy, following The Mask of Mirrors (read my review). In the first book, we have exquisite worldbuilding, the creation of pattern reading and the numinatria, as well as the layered stories for Renata and Arenza, as well as Tess and the other characters. The Rook and the Lady Rose were introduced, the mystery of their identities not fully revealed. In this volume, we see the fallout of the first book in the trilogy.

As with the first book, the exquisite worldbuilding is front and center here. Holidays, theater, music, and secret societies are all present, each adding to the layers of secrecy for our characters. Patterning has Mask and Face cards, and each of our main players has them as well. Against a backdrop where the different nationalities and factions within the city push and pull at each other, even the street kids have a role at times. Ren is having some trouble balancing her different roles, especially now that she also is the Black Rose and is meant to uphold the goddess Ažerais. At the same time, the magic we learned about in the first book is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are still ramifications of the curse on House Traementis for Renata to deal with.

The layers in the story are intricately done so that the ties we think exist shift the further into the tale we go. It makes sense; each Mask and Face has their own motives, and sometimes they dovetail, sometimes they don't. Tension is relieved to an extent when truths are revealed, but soon enough ratchets up again. The source of magic and curses has ramifications for the entire city, as it involves the same ancient artifact created hundreds of years ago that enabled a tyrant to rule. Its aura remains, and those who would orchestrate its use plan to rule the city again.

Many people think the second book in a trilogy is a weaker link, as you don't have the initial excitement of the first book or the thrill of the chase in a final book. This is every bit as well done as the first book in this trilogy. Ren's lies are catching up with her, and she doesn't have the life she initially thought she wanted. But what she has now likely can be even better, and I can't wait to see how it all happens in the next book.

Buy The Liar's Knot at Amazon

Faerie Fallen by Carol Beth Anderson

Faerie Fallen
December 2021; Eliana Press; 978-1949384154
audio, ebook, print (366 pages); YA fantasy

Winged faerie Sela would rather carouse with humans than rule them and is cast out. In order to end her exile, she must spy on the Darros family, who is scheming to take down the fae. To do this, she agrees to tutor Kovian Darros in the fae language. Unfortunately, he's a gorgeous eighteen-year-old that she's falling for even as she tries to trick him into revealing his family's secrets. Sela hopes to learn them and save her people, and avoid having the Darros family learn the truth about her and kill her.

The first of a romantic fantasy upper YA series, this novel does have some depictions of self-harm, unwanted kisses, sadistic behavior, and harm to an infant mentioned in the text. The warning is on the Amazon site as well as in the book itself just so you know what might be there if you have a trigger. I've read other books that Andersen wrote, and while she does have fights and violent scenes in her books, it's never written with the sense that it's glorified or a thing to emulate. There are consequences to the violence, and those ramifications affect the characters in realistic ways. Some of the violence has to do with revelries within the Unseelie court, as those are the monstrous fae that bite and attack each other for fun. If you've read some of the other YA books, you may recognize a common thread: Earth sent out colony ships millennia ago, but the worlds they landed on are very different, and there is magic all kinds of other creatures present.

As an eighteen-year-old ignored by her mother and in search of a thrill, Sela thought it would be a hoot to dance in a human club. This is the opportunity that her king and his advisor has to send her into the human world as a spy, setting up an enemies-to-lovers dynamic. They get to know each other and the opposing viewpoints, plus we get to see what a truly horrible person Kovian's uncle Mitchel is. There is intrigue between the Seelie and Unseelie courts, the extremists wanting to kill all the fae as well as the extremists that want to rule all the humans. Surprises along the way exist, so that people aren't exactly who we think they are, or their alliances aren't quite what we think.

Buy Faerie Fallen at Amazon

The Geek's Guide to Wizarding Mastery in One Epic Tome by Megan O'Russell

The Geek's Guide to Wizarding Mastery
December 2021; Ink Worlds Press; 978-1951359331
audio, ebook, print (774 pages); YA fantasy

This Omnibus volume contains four novels: How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' Days, Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone's Trying to Kill You, Three Simple Steps to Wizarding Domination, and Five Spellbinding Laws of International Larceny. Each of the novels builds on the previous ones, expanding the world of magic and the consequences that Bryant and his friends would have to face. Jacob McNatt's narration for the audiobook is fantastic, as he infuses life into each of the characters, and does accents and different cadences of speech for each character.

The first novel outlines how Bryant finds a phone containing a magical library, and he's the only one he knows that can unlock it. His best friend and the girl he's in love with get roped into his adventure; he felt like a sidekick to his popular friend Devon and invisible to Elizabeth at the start of the story. He's a geek, son of the theater teacher, and has a rich father he doesn't talk about because he's pretty much absent. Living in New York City is a study in movement and presence, which Bryant doesn't feel he has. So when he accidentally comes across the phone, he's now thrust into a whole new world and rules he knows nothing about, with magicians willing to kill him to get it back.

From there, Bryant, Devon, and Elizabeth are pulled into the world of magic. Magicians live in a hidden community below ground, and there are all kinds of dangers to face there. The Ladies essentially rule the community, doling out spells piecemeal and meting judgment against those they feel break the rules. There are also plenty of rule breakers, however, an underground even among the underground community. And who is drawn into the struggle? Bryant, of course. He was marked by fate itself, and as a magician's apprentice is now front and center of the dangers involved with magic he can't fully understand and is only beginning to learn to control.

The main characters are all in high school, and their voices are wonderful. The concerns they have and the way they speak is genuine to their experiences, and I love Bryant's commentary. He's hilarious even when he doesn't think he is. He has a great relationship with his mother, who isn't absentee by any means; many YA or middle-grade books have conveniently absentee parents. Here, he juggles expectations from his parents and school as well as learning magic. He's stressed by keeping magic secret, not reacting to bullies in the hallways, and still doing homework for classes. He is traumatized and anxious, getting panic attacks and throwing up at sometimes inconvenient moments because of it. His parents have him start therapy because of the stress and panic, a realistic push and one that I appreciated. Many novels putting teens front and center ignore the trauma that it would put these kids through. Bryant minimizes how the events affect him, but even as he dodges mentions of the magical community, having someone to talk to is beneficial. He might not see it, but having a therapist leads to fewer anxious reactions as the novels progress.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bryant's journey throughout the novels. He and his friends grew up a lot, and it was fun seeing how they dodged the dangers and consequences of their actions. And make no mistake, there are consequences for them to deal with. They were fully engaged in their mission, of course, but the fallout is dealt with later on in the series. They're not conveniently forgotten; the author deftly works that into the novels and shows that for good or ill, there will always be something to deal with. The Omnibus neatly ties up all those loose ends, and there could be more in this world. If there is, I would definitely jump in feet first to read them.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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