These superbly crafted retellings present an opportunity to revel in tales we might think we know well but that still have the ability to surprise.
The Book of Gothel
Framed as a medieval text found in a German woman's attic, The Book of Gothel centers on the woman who became the witch who imprisoned Rapunzel in her tower. As a young girl, however, Haelewise is neither powerful nor a witch. She is merely an outsider, marked by both her intermittent fainting spells and her deep, black eyes. Her mother, Hedda, is the respected local midwife, but most in their village believe that Haelewise's fainting spells are of demonic origin. After her mother dies and her father remarries, Haelewise takes refuge in a secluded tower called Gothel, where she becomes an apprentice to a wise woman. But despite her existence on the margins of her world, Haelewise is soon pulled into intrigue, from princesses fleeing cruel fiancés to princes with wicked spells cast upon them. With secrets behind every whisper, Haelewise must tread carefully if she is to survive.
Mary McMyne's debut novel is dark and moody, full of distrust, doubt and more than a little bit of drama. Far from being a simple villain origin story, it explores Haelewise's family, her epilepsy and the stark world of 12th-century Germania. Despite the bleak nature of the era, McMyne's prose is full of vivid color, whether it's the mysterious golden fruit that Haelewise finds growing in Hedda's garden or the madder-red gown given to Haelewise by a childhood friend turned would-be lover. It's a world where Christianity and older religions and traditions coexist but where even a hint of witchcraft could put herbalists and midwives in danger of being stoned. This atmosphere, combined with the deep longings and confusion of a girl just entering womanhood and the fact that readers have a good idea of the fate that awaits her, shadows The Book of Gothel with an overwhelming sense of dread—but will also compel readers to keep going to the very end.
★ The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, starts in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in the 19th century, as the titular doctor is looking for an assistant. He finds one in Montgomery Laughton, an Englishman with alcoholism and a mountain of debt. Montgomery helps the aging doctor create human-animal hybrids, which are destined to work the plantations of Dr. Moreau's wealthy benefactor. Carlota Moreau, the doctor's daughter, leads a relatively carefree life on the estate, with plenty of hybrid companions and her studies to keep her company. The only thing marring her life is a lingering childhood illness that requires her to have weekly injections of one of her father's mysterious serums. When the handsome son of Dr. Moreau's benefactor, Eduardo Lizalde, unexpectedly visits, the sheltered estate is thrown first into discord and then into total disarray as the Moreaus' secrets are pulled slowly into the light.
Moreno-Garcia (Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow) is a master of dramatic tension. Her decision to reimagine H.G. Wells' visionary 1896 novel on an isolated estate instead of an island creates a sense of furtiveness, a constant fear of discovery. The insertion of Carlota, who is not a character from the original book, gives a human face to an inhuman (or, at the very least, inhumane) story, adding something precious that could be lost if the delicate equilibrium of Moreau's estate is unbalanced.
Moreno-Garcia revels in her setting's tropical color palette, which is reflected in the rich green of Eduardo's eyes and the bold colors of Carlota's dresses. Moreno-Garcia also includes small, down-to-earth details of pastoral life on the estate, resulting in a world that feels immediate enough to slip into. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau will pull readers in even as a pit grows in their stomachs, given all the things they know can—and likely will—go wrong.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes on The Island of Doctor Moreau, and the witch from "Rapunzel" gets a haunting origin story.
Young witch Marlinchen and her sisters live under the iron thumb of their father, a wizard intent on preserving the old ways and keeping his daughters safe from the degradations of the rapidly changing outside world. But when Marlinchen falls in love with ballet dancer Sevas, she begins to chafe against her father's rule. We talked to Ava Reid about her unique Eastern European-inspired world and the gruesome fairy tale that inspired her sophomore novel.
Juniper & Thorn is inspired by the “The Juniper Tree,” one of the more obscure stories from Grimms' Fairy Tales in which a woman murders her stepson and the father eats him. What drew you to this story? I was always beguiled by its unofficial moniker of Grimms' darkest fairy tale. There are a lot of horrific and grisly stories in the Grimms' repertoire, many with the same themes. There's cannibalism in “Hansel & Gretel,” murder and bloodshed galore in classics like ‘Red Riding Hood' and “Snow White.” So what sets “The Juniper Tree” apart?
One thing I noted is that there are very few quintessential fairy-tale tropes in “The Juniper Tree.” It's a strangely quiet, intimate story about domestic violence within a single family.
Once I came to that realization, it seemed most honest to make this retelling a gothic horror novel. It did not feel sweeping in scope or appropriate for an epic fantasy setting. I wanted to maintain this thread of bleak, almost claustrophobic violence, which is the core of the gothic genre. That unnaturalness and upending of a foundational expectation—that parents should love and care for their children—is what makes “The Juniper Tree” so horrible, and what makes Juniper & Thornfirmly a horror novel.
Despite the fact that Juniper & Thorn and your debut novel, The Wolf and the Woodsman, are set in the same universe, they feel like very different stories. Did your writing process or sources for inspiration change between the two? I like to think of The Wolf and the Woodsman and Juniper & Thornas fractured mirror images: If Woodsman is about the pain of being excluded from the narrative, then Juniper & Thornis about the pain of being forced into the narrative, acting out the same rigidly defined role over and over. So while they are very different books that span different subgenres, the common threads are, I think, what makes an “Ava Reid book.”
As for the writing process, by dint of the fact that Juniper & Thornwas the second book in my contract, I had to write it fairly quickly and did so in a month. It changed very little from its initial draft. I had a much stronger sense of my identity as a writer and a very clear idea of what I wanted this book to be from page one.
While Juniper & Thorn is set in a fictional world, it's obviously influenced by Eastern European culture and especially the conquest of parts of the region by Russia. Why did you set your story in this context? Eastern Europe is the setting of many major contemporary fantasy novels, but with few exceptions, these books present an Eastern Europe that is bleak, wintry, remote, forested and very culturally homogeneous. I was intrigued by writing an Eastern Europe that was different: wind-chapped steppes, black sand beaches, boardwalks, smoke-chuffing factories, vibrant with urban life, diverse and dynamic. Early 20th-century Odesa, Ukraine, the city upon which Oblya is based, was considered the jewel of the Russian empire. It was an entirely planned city that became a regional hub of immigration, export and industry. It is also a city where a large number of Ashkenazi Jews lived, including my own family.
Enormous change—industrialization, urbanization, immigration—was disrupting traditional lifestyles, often violently. This setting was fundamental to the story I wanted to tell. I like to set books during periods of upheaval, uncertainty, transformation and violence, where what has always been is not synonymous with what will always be.
The conflict between modernity and magic bleeds into the sisters' lives in a lot of different ways. Do you think the kind of magic you depict in Juniper & Thorn can coexist with modernity as we think of it? Magic in Juniper & Thornrepresents the old world, a world that is regressive and stubbornly resistant to change. When Marlinchen gives examples of her father's transformations, they are always instances in which he turns something dynamic or technologically advanced into something lifeless or outdated: a swan into a swan-vase, an electric lamp into a candle. His transformation is reaching backward while the city around them leaps forward. I think it's inherently anti-modernity. It parallels the way a lot of contemporary European ethnic nationalists imagine their countries' mythic pasts'magical, in touch with the natural world and of course devoid of any ‘foreign' or ‘corruptive' element. Is there a place for this way of thinking in the modern world? Unfortunately, yes, but ideally, these prejudicial, violent attitudes would go the way of the spinning wheel.
Eastern European names are all about diminutives, a nickname formed by adding -sha to the initial syllable of a name. In a book that draws from those cultures, why did you make the majority of your characters' names defy this custom? I wanted to set the Vashchenko family apart from the rest of society as much as possible. They live an outmoded and traditional lifestyle, and the rigidity of their names, which eschew diminutives, represents this attitude of isolation.
Surnames with the suffix –enko are uniquely Ukrainian, first recorded in the 1400s. Unlike most other Russian and Ukrainian surnames, they do not change with grammatical gender. Ordinarily a father whose surname is Sorokin would have a daughter surnamed Sorokina. But I chose the name Vashchenko specifically because it doesn't change with gender, to further represent the total dominion Zmiy has over his daughters.
Despite the fact that this is ostensibly a book about witches, there is precious little magic of the wand-waving variety. Instead, your magic is at turns visceral (Marlinchen's divining ability is all about touch) and existential (Zmiy's curse). What inspired you to make a magic system that is so sparse and yet so threatening? I often think about what separates dark fantasy from horror, because while The Wolf and the Woodsman is a dark fantasy novel, Juniper & Thornis very clearly horror. And I always return to the idea that fear is different from horror. Fear is staring down a man with a knife; horror is staring down a monster made of knives. Horror shifts your view of the world, your view of yourself. It is something beyond comprehension. So the magic in Juniperis—by intention—a bit blurry around the edges. And I think that's what makes it frightening.
There are very few physical demonstrations of Zmiy's magic, even though he makes plenty of threats. Marlinchen begins the book convinced that her father is all-powerful. The fear that he instills in her is real, but whether it is the result of physical, tangible magic is uncertain. This uncertainty is the nature of horror, and it's also the nature of abuse. Marlinchen is gaslighted and manipulated into a state of bewilderment and insecurity, unable to trust herself or her perceptions. A more ambiguous and elusive form of magic felt fitting for a book that's so much about psychological abuse.
Whilethe characters (Sevas in particular) insist that they are not in a fairy tale, there are a lot of elements of Juniper & Thorn that use the mechanics of such stories. How did you toe that line between being inspired by a fairy tale and creating something completely new? Fairy tales remain essential parts of our culture because they contain themes or lessons that feel universal, even aspirational: Strangers are dangerous (“Red Riding Hood”), beauty is goodness (“Cinderella”), justice is always done (take your pick). These beliefs are so fundamental that they are rarely ever questioned or even remarked upon. I wanted to write a book that dismantled as many of these foundational assumptions as I could. Sevas, a stranger, is in fact Marlinchen's savior. Marlinchen, plain-faced, unremarkable, is the story's heroine. The world of Juniper & Thornis by design deeply cruel and unjust. Once I had my list of tropes and mechanics, I began trying to take them apart. So while I was obviously inspired by fairy tales, my goal was always to turn them on their heads.
In several scenes, Marlinchen talks about her storybook-infused views on family, such as the dangers of having sisters or the fact that you can have a kind mother or a mother who's alive but not both. Why do you think these themes are so ubiquitous in fairy tales? Folklorists and anthropologists have had hearty debates on this subject. One defining element of fairy tales is their simplicity: There are archetypes, not characters, the settings are always vague, and the plots are straightforward. As Marlinchen says, they are stories that aren't meant to be questioned. They are answers in and of themselves. Italo Calvino defines a fairy tale by its brevity and concision of language. They occupy a strange space in our culture that seems to be outside the realm of logic or realism—yet they have their own logic that is seductively easy to swallow.
Juniper & Thornis a recrimination about how fairy tales are weaponized as instruments of oppression and abuse, and I do believe that is often true. At the same time, I'm not ready to surrender fairy tales entirely, to give them over to the Zmiy Vashchenkos of the world. I think certain motifs occur and remain because of our common humanity. It's easy to see the strains of misogyny, patriarchy, antisemitism, etc., as nefarious—and they are—but they are also evidence of a shared past. Reminders of this common humanity can be powerful, restorative and brimming with hope.
Your descriptions of the ballet, in particular of Sevas' skill as a dancer, are breathtaking. What drew you to the imagery of dance? Ballet is an important part of Russian culture and Russian national identity, particularly in the early 20th century, when the book is set. Iconic ballets like ‘The Firebird'and ‘Swan Lake'draw from Russian folklore and fairy tales, and of course, both feature imagery of birds and themes of transformation'so it seemed deeply fitting.
I also thought a lot about ballet as both an art form and a sport; it requires incredible physical strength and an almost ascetic level of dedication, especially to achieve the success that Sevas has. But unlike many other sports, aesthetics are crucial to its performance. Ballet's emphasis on beauty, fluidity and effortless grace while camouflaging the physical toll it takes on the dancers knits together very well with the larger themes of the book.
Do you think that Marlinchen would have eventually rebelled if she hadn't met Sevas? Where would they both be now if they hadn't met each other? It's honestly impossible for me to conceive of these two characters apart from each other, because I wrote them to be soulmates: They understand each other instantly to the deepest possible degree, and even though they appear quite different on the surface, they are perfect mirror images. They have been trapped, misused and pushed to the bleakest point of desperation, and that's when they find each other. I think it's easy to see Sevas as Marlinchen's knight in shining armor, but she rescues him just as much as he rescues her.
Photo of Ava Reid courtesy of the author.
The author's gothic horror novel, Juniper & Thorn, is inspired by Grimms' most gruesome tale.
The last wizard in the city of Oblya has three daughters, and his youngest, Marlinchen, is meek and subservient, bending to her father's tempestuous nature and her sisters' scornful criticisms. But Marlinchen knows the boundaries of her proscribed life and does not stray outside them. That is, until her sisters drag her into the city to go to the ballet. The dance awakens something in Marlinchen, as does the sight of its principal dancer, Sevas. The door to rebellion now cracked open, Marlinchen begins to strain against the cords that bind her to her father's will. And as she steps out of his shadow bit by bit, there is no returning to the way things used to be.
Set in the same universe as Ava Reid's debut novel, The Wolf and the Woodsman, Juniper & Thorn tells a haunting story of modernization, love and escape from abuse. Reid's prose is at times heavy and muted and at others soaring and poetic, contrasting Marlinchen's family home, the only world she has ever known, with Sevas' seemingly liberated life—a life Marlinchen desperately wishes to experience. The expansiveness Reid evokes in Marlinchen's interactions with Sevas (via his dancing but also simply his earnest, luminescent presence) is welcome and necessary, turning a claustrophobic story into one that is also transcendent and hopeful. This combination of sweeping, emotional descriptions and scenes of tightly wound suspense brings to mind both Eastern European ballet classics such as Stravinsky's “The Firebird” and Tchaikovsky's “Swan Lake” and gothic horror like Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House—a juxtaposition that makes Juniper & Thorn an utterly compelling read.
Readers who would prefer to avoid themes of abuse and self-harm, as well as intense depictions of gore and body horror, should avoid Juniper & Thorn, since these elements recur with frequency. However, readers who are prepared for such territory will find a brilliant novel both tender and chilling, one that will challenge their ideas about monstrosity and magic and drag them from the depths of dread to the heights of hope.
Set in the same world as her debut, The Wolf and the Woodsman, Ava Reid's Juniper & Thorn is a tender, chilling story of love and escape from abuse.
In the alternate modern-day U.K. setting of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, a recent civil war among witches and warlocks has left their community in shambles. The titular congregation of witches has protected and supported the monarchy through wartime and peace alike, but their coven is now a mere shadow of its former glory. Many of its members were killed in the violence of the internecine war, while others have left in favor of either practicing in solitude or forming more inclusive covens than the stodgy and traditional HMRC.
Niamh, Helena, Leonie and Elle were bound by their girlhood oath to the HMRC and their friendships with one another. But those friendships, like the HMRC itself, are showing wear. While Helena, the new high priestess of the HMRC, has stayed within its stifling halls, the others have moved on. Niamh, still reeling from the death of her fiancé and the betrayal of her twin sister in the war, has retreated into her veterinary practice. Elle, who hails from an ancient line of powerful witches, has elected to live as a mundane housewife, while Leonie has risen as the queen of a new coven that welcomes witches from marginalized backgrounds into its ranks. Their bonds are further tested when a powerful young warlock threatens to destroy the HMRC for good.
British author Juno Dawson’s adult fiction debut is a femme-forward story of power, morality and fate that is not shy about its politics. While the political arguments in Her Majesty’s Royal Coven are couched in magical terms, they closely align with issues in our own world. Dawson explores the complexities of modern feminism with particular poignancy: The HMRC is stuck in its ways and takes a rigid view of womanhood and witchcraft, holding up a mirror to the failures of modern feminism. Despite its stated good intentions, the coven often discounts or even demonizes both trans witches and the traditional practices of non-white witches.
Beyond its politics, what especially makes Her Majesty’s Royal Coven shine is its impeccable voice. Dawson’s conversational, matter-of-fact tone calls to mind writers like Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones; it’s at times funny, at others heartbreaking, but always perfectly calibrated. Dawson makes you feel like she has laid all her cards on the table, but every so often she manages to pull a hidden ace from her sleeve that shocks you.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is a thoughtful entry into the witch canon that intrigues and challenges as much as it delights.
Her Majesty's Royal Coven uses the setting of an alternate Britain where witchcraft is real to mount a delightful and thoughtful exploration of modern feminism.
Some horror novels grab you by the throat and pull you through them, rubbing your face in the uncomfortable, terrifying things that lurk in the dark. Other horror novels can feel more sinister, slowly creeping up on you out of the banality of everyday evil. Two new novels explore these facets of fear to great effect, creating worlds that are both fantastical and terribly real.
Set along Oregon’s foggy coast, Black Tide by KC Jones is the story of two strangers who are thrust together when the world comes to an end. Beth might be a disaster (even her mother says so), but her latest gig housesitting for wealthy vacationers at least keeps her from living in her car. The night before everything changes, she meets Mike, a film producer with no new projects in sight. In the early morning hours after their champagne-soaked one-night stand, they realize that something is terribly wrong. The power is out, cell phone service is down and the beach is littered with bowling ball-size meteorites that smell as if they have been pulled from a landfill in hell. Soon the unlikely pair learn a horrifying truth: Far from being an isolated incident, the meteor shower was the harbinger of an apocalyptic encounter with creatures from another world. Stranded together on an Oregonian beach, Beth and Mike must rely on each other if they are to have any chance of survival.
Jones’ debut novel reads like a summer blockbuster stuffed with adrenaline-pumping action scenes and moments of heart-stopping suspense. Jones deftly punctuates long, tense scenes of Mike and Beth trying to avoid notice by the alien creatures with short, intense bursts of them fighting for their lives. Moments of relative calm allow for character exploration, bringing readers into Mike’s and Beth’s minds as they work through their feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Jones lets both characters take turns as first-person narrators, demonstrating the difference in how they see themselves (flawed to the point of worthlessness) and how the other person sees them (flawed but essentially good).
For readers used to tome-size horror novels, the length of Black Tide may be surprising. It’s just over 250 pages, but anything longer would have detracted from the frenetic pacing and torn attention away from Jones’ perfectly simple, extremely frightening premise: two people trapped at the end of the world, desperate to not be eaten by monsters.
★ The Fervor
Alma Katsu’s The Fervor casts a wide net. It starts in 1944 during the waning days of World War II. Meiko Briggs is a Japanese immigrant and wife of a white American man. Even though her husband is serving in the U.S. Air Force, she’s still torn from her new home by the American government and forced to live in an internment camp in the remote reaches of Idaho with her daughter, Aiko. When a mysterious illness starts to move through the camp, rage and distrust rise, threatening the fragile corner of relative normalcy Meiko has tried to create for her daughter.
Meanwhile, mysterious balloons have begun to appear and then explode across the West, leaving a similar illness in their wake. One of these bombs turns a preacher in Bly, Oregon, into a widower, driving him into the arms of hate movements cropping up across the country. A close encounter with another bomb leads a newspaper reporter to crisscross the region looking for answers, but she finds only closed doors and deep distrust. As the illness intensifies in both the camps and the surrounding towns, the sins of the past collide with the present to create an inescapable web of hatred, fear and desperation.
In light of the rash of anti-Asian violence of the 2020s, Katsu’s historical parable about the horrors—and the virulence—of racism and xenophobia feels particularly pressing. The Fervor gives readers a glimpse into one of the darkest moments of American history, and then gives the already-terrifying ethos of that time a new and frightening shape: As the disease spreads from person to person, it is often accompanied by mysterious, possibly supernatural spiders. The image of near-invisible spiders crawling from one person to another, over eyelids, mouths and bodies, is an indelibly creepy illustration of just how pervasive mistrust and prejudice are.
The terror only grows from there. From visitations from a ghostly woman in a red kimono to midnight car chases through the prairie, The Fervor delivers a punch that’s equal parts psychological horror and jump scare. It will make you want to read into the wee hours of the morning, even though you may question that decision when the shadows start to move.
KC Jones’ apocalyptic debut and Alma Katsu’s latest eerie novel have one thing in common: They will absolutely terrify you.
Far from being simple tales of birthrights and inheritances restored, these books delve into heady questions about power, privilege and the consequences of political intrigue. And while each does this in a different way, they do have one thing in common: They open with a death.
The Amber Crown
Jacey Bedford’s The Amber Crown begins with the death of King Konstantyn of Zavonia, poisoned by an unknown assassin. His personal guards are immediately blamed for the death and executed by the new king. Valdas Zalecki, head of the king’s guard, was out of the palace on the night of the murder, and it is up to him to find out who killed his beloved king—and to find Queen Kristina, who’s gone missing. Mirza, a witch and healer with the power to speak with the dead, promises Konstantyn that she will avenge his death. And the last piece of The Amber Crown’s puzzle is Lind, the assassin who killed Konstantyn. Haunted by the specter of his abusive childhood, Lind finds that the murder of a king is not an easy thing to live with. As their stories collide, these three outsiders must work together to prevent Zavonia from falling further into chaos.
Despite its conventional premise, The Amber Crown still represents a divergence from traditional high fantasy. The world building echoes Eastern Europe, with Zavonia serving as a fictionalized version of Poland. This allows Bedford to pull from supernatural practices of that region of the world, such as blood rituals and dream walking. And Bedford’s focus on marginalized and supposedly “unimportant” characters, rather than knights and princes, forces readers to reckon with the consequences of political upheaval outside of a royal court.
★ The Bone Orchard
Sara A. Mueller’s debut novel also begins with the death of a monarch, this time an emperor. In The Bone Orchard, Charm is a prisoner but a well-kept one. Taken from her home when her kingdom of Inshil was conquered and colonized by the Boren Empire, the necromantic witch has been confined to Orchard House for decades. Charm is surrounded by her children, of a kind: boneghosts who are grown (and often regrown) from the fruit of the bone-producing orchard. Charm and her boneghosts—Justice, Pain, Pride, Shame and Desire—serve the powerful men of the capital city of Borenguard as entertainers, masseuses and sex workers. Charm is mistress to the emperor himself, bound by a neural implant that keeps her magic in check and keeps her loyal to him. But when Charm is called to the emperor’s deathbed, she’s given a chance at freedom. If she finds the person who killed him, she will be free of the magic that keeps her bound to the crown.
While the mechanics of Charm’s bone orchard and the empathic power that some citizens of Borenguard wield are certainly magical, other aspects of The Bone Orchard evoke classic sci-fi tropes. Charm’s boneghosts harken all the way back to Frankenstein, and the oppressive, fascist Boren Empire is straight out of Fahrenheit 451. But despite these nods to foundational works, The Bone Orchard still feels fresh and ambitious. Charm enjoys access to power while still being marginalized herself, a contradictory position that Mueller analyzes to endlessly fascinating effect. It may be an otherworldly, genre-bending fantasy, but The Bone Orchard is still intensely human at its heart.
In a Garden Burning Gold
In a Garden Burning Gold’s opening death is not so much a murder as it is a sacrifice. Young adult author Rory Power’s first novel for adults centers on twins Rhea and Lexos, siblings gifted with immense power and responsibility. Rhea is the Thyspira, tasked with taking—and then sacrificing—a new consort each season to keep the world lush and the provinces that owe fealty to their father, Vasilis, in line. Lexos is their father’s second, trained from near birth to assist Vasilis in his political machinations and keep stability in the land. When Rhea’s latest suitor-cum-sacrifice is revealed to be embroiled in an independence movement that threatens the stability of the family’s demesne, the twins must scramble to maintain control and protect all they hold dear.
Set in a world patterned after ancient Greek city states, In a Garden Burning Gold dives deep into family love, political intrigue and filial duty. It’s rare to find a main character whose powers engender so much ambivalence as Rhea’s abilities do for her. She offers little in return to the families and communities from whom she has stolen a life, other than the continuance of the status quo. Power makes Rhea a compelling and often likable character, while never losing sight of the fact that, in the end, she always lives and her consort always dies. That imbalance compels readers to ask whether the sacrifice is really worth it, and whether that sort of power should sit in any one person’s—or family’s—hands. A grown-up version of Encanto mixed with a political thriller, all set against a dazzling Mediterranean backdrop, In a Garden Burning Gold is a strikingly original and thoughtful fantasy.
Readers who are eager for feats of magic and daring adventures but don’t want to retread the same old stories from decades past will be enthralled by these three novels, each of which strays outside of the traditional high fantasy playbook to great effect.
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