Rado (author of Gray Warrior) collects six brisk, surprising epic fantasy novellas centered on compelling hero, Alerice, who, after an act of righteous vengeance leads to her murder, becomes a “Realme Walker” endowed with the weapons of the Raven Queen, a not-of-our-world power who shares her court with her husband, the scheming King of Shadows. Returned to Mortalia, the realm of mortals, Alerice is charged with acting on the Raven Queen’s will, which naturally leads to danger—she faces fierce beasts, uncertain alliances, and even a ring of pedophiles. At her side, to her surprise, is Kreston, who bears the mark of the King of Shadows, and at times seems to be working against the Raven Queen’s goals. When not facing off against demon toads or kelpies, Alerice wonders whether she and Kreston can trust each other, as each’s master seems capable of charging one to kill the other.

Complicating matters in these swift, engaging stories is Alerice’s strong sense of justice, inherited from her father, which puts her at odds with the orders of the Raven Queen, who insists that Alerice’s weapons—a dagger and two bladed, extendable “pixie poles”—should only be deployed for the queen’s purposes, not merely to save the lives of innocent mortals. Each entry offers a mostly standalone adventure, taking readers to exciting locations like a fauns’ glen and an abbey beset by wyverns, but the serialized elements are tense and compelling, especially once Kreston has developed urgent feelings for Alerice, and the King of Shadows instructs him to steal a mighty bauble from Alerice’s patron.

Action is lively and inventive, and Rado’s worldbuilding is strong, full of surprises, mythic mysteries, all-too-human gods, and a memorable sense of place, whether the caverns, underworlds, or inviting taverns. The prose tends toward the matter-of-fact, at times not measuring up to the magic of the world, but the dialogue, characterization, and the spirit of adventure are all vigorous. Here’s sword-and-sorcery with real heart.

Takeaway: Rousing epic fantasy novellas of a realms-crossing heroine.

Comparable Titles: Michelle Sagara, Tamora Pierce.

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