Hello all. DC seems to be leaning into spring already, but I’m not buying it. Experience has taught me that we’ll have one more big freeze before winter properly comes to an end. The boys have both been cast in an original musical being produced by the local teen community center, which warms my battered old theater heart. I swear I’m trying my best not to be a Stage Dad. Mostly.
My agency and I are having a lot of cool discussions about various potential side projects for me right now. The brainstorming stage is always exciting because everything seems possible. Of course, many of these things don’t pan out, but every once in a while, one pulls through. For example, I hope I’ll soon be able to start talking about my first middle grade book, to be published by Scholastic in the fall. I had a blast writing it, especially after a few years away from the “kid lit” scene. It was such a delightful change of pace from the massive, sweeping epic of The Goddess War that occupies my brain most of the time these days.
Speaking of The Goddess War, we’re less than three months from the release of the first book, The Ranger of Marzanna, and reviews are starting to come in. I generally don’t go out of my way to look for reviews because by and large, reviews are intended for potential readers, not the authors who wrote the book. But I’m also not one of those writers who avoid reading reviews either. Sometimes a person will tag me on social media when they post a review and I’m always appreciative. There are a lot of books out there, after all, and even if the reviewer took issue with certain aspects of the book, anything that gets people to notice my book could potentially lead to new readers.
My publicist also sends along trade reviews, which are the ones that librarians and booksellers use to decide which books to put on their shelves. Obviously those reviews are critical in getting books out into the world. Ideally, you want “starred” reviews, which means the reviewer believes the book is particularly noteworthy.
I wanted to give you that context so that you understand how excited I am to share two starred reviews for The Ranger of Marzanna!
Skovron (Empire of Storms) launches his Slavic-influenced Goddess War series with this intricate, well-told fantasy. Sixteen-year-old Sebastian Turgenev Portinari has a rare talent for elemental magic, but his skills are inhibited by his father’s efforts to keep them a secret from the ruthless Aureumian Imperial Army, who recently conquered their homeland of Izmoroz. Sebastian’s sister, 18-year-old Sonya, is hiding her own secrets from the empire: she’s the last of the renowned Rangers of Marzanna, the devoted disciples of the Goddess of Winter, who the empire believes it exterminated. Where Sebastian is immature, sensitive, and vulnerable to the influence of others, Sonya is devoted to her relationship with the goddess and determined to reclaim Izmoroz from the Aureumian invaders. After imperial soldiers kill their father, the siblings are transported to the capital city, where Sebastian is conscripted into the army and persuaded by volatile Cdr. Franko Vittorio to use his powers in service of the empire, setting him and Sonya on a collision course. Both perspectives are depicted with depth and nuance, making the inevitability of their confrontation all the more painful. Skovron does an admirable job balancing large-scale and interpersonal conflicts, and strong supporting characters and cultural specificity add texture. This is epic fantasy done right.
The first installment of the new adventure fantasy trilogy from Skovron (Blood and Tempest, 2017, etc.) revolves around two siblings who find themselves on opposite sides of a looming war. It's been years since the Aureumian Empire effectively conquered the impoverished nation of Izmoroz, but Sonya Turgenev Portinari—a ranger from a presumably defunct group of supernatural warriors who are devotees of Marzanna, the Goddess of Winter and Death—has vowed to get the empire out of Izmoroz so that her oppressed people can worship the Lady freely again. When she discovers that imperial soldiers killed her father and abducted her mother and younger brother, Sebastian, she is shocked to realize that her brother—who is a powerful elemental mage—has enlisted in the imperial army and is using his magical ability to further the empire. With only a young apothecary named Jorge accompanying her, Sonya—who is slowly being transformed into a foxlike deity of sorts by Marzanna—sets out to gather allies in her fight against the empire. As Sonya finds support in the unlikeliest of places, Sebastian's life is complicated when he falls in love and is betrothed to a woman named Galina. But as his love for her intensifies, so does his duty to the empire—and he soon finds himself using his power to kill. Although the worldbuilding is solid, the action is nonstop, and Skovron's overall character development is exceptional (especially when it comes to the female main characters, who are all brilliantly multidimensional and identifiable), the one major weakness is the portrayal of Sebastian, whose staunch idealism and naiveté through much of the novel are both irritating and improbable, especially considering the fact that empire soldiers murdered his father. An undeniable page-turner that will have readers salivating for the next volume of this projected trilogy.
Aren’t those lovely? Plenty of pull quotes for the marketing department, I think. And sure, Kirkus didn’t like Sebastian very much. It’s understandable. He’s not for everyone, especially early on. I find that people tend to gravitate toward one sibling or the other. My agent, for example, is a staunch Sonya fan, while my editor has a soft spot for Sebastian that surprises even me. Granted, she already knows what will happen to him in the following books, so perhaps she is more forgiving of his early naiveté. I’ve just finished the rough draft for The Queen of Izmoroz, and I will say that he is in a very different place by the end of book 2 than he was in book 1. And that’s how it should be. I always make sure to leave plenty of room for characters to grow because watching them do so has always been my favorite part of epic fantasy.
I think I’ll leave you with that thought. We’re all still growing in one way or another, aren’t we. Often in unexpected ways. Maybe sometimes not quite as fast as we would like, but progress is progress. As long as you don’t give up, the growth will still continue.