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April Russell
Despite the long war that rages around her, Blahom leads a sheltered but enviable life as a young Black royal until everything is shattered by a shocking vision and a single act of deception. Beautiful, poised, and adored by the Zaed society her family rules over, Blahom has spent her young life preparing for her future as a ruler and royal. The war between her people, who value a connection to God and culture, and the Delions, who aim to rule Sirius with technology, has raged on for years-but since the disappearance of a cousin and countless other women in her community, the stakes have suddenly become higher...and much more personal. Lacking solutions for how to end the conflict, Blahom's mother shares a plan to end the war that was revealed to her in a visionary dream -if only her family would agree. As the rulers-including Blahom's younger sister Katyana and fierce warrior brother Vasco-come to accept their changing roles in the battles to come, the brief moment of hope is shattered by a shocking murder that strikes at the core of Blahom's inner circle. Touching off a hero's journey that sees Blahom and her sister come to embrace their strength and power to defend their beautiful land, the two young women will endure grueling training, skepticism, tragedy, and risk a young new love in order to save their people and way of life. With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, Blahom: A Warrior Goddess is the first book in a new, richly inventive urban fantasy series that marks the debut of author April Q. Russell. It certainly won't be the last.
Russell’s epic debut novel, first of a trilogy, begins a lively science-fiction fantasy set on the planet Sirius, which is wracked by a decade-long war between two races. The dark skinned Zaeds are ruled by faith in their Alpha God, while the treacherous pale Delions depend on their technology to control the planet. When the Zaed queen Mother Hutra has a prophetic dream, it’s interpreted to mean that her royal daughters, 17-year-old Blahom and 13-year-old Katyana, must train to become Warrior Goddesses to help their men, including their saber-rattling brother Vasco, fight the Delions. Pampered court dancer Blahom finds fighting is beneath her, while spirited Katyana embraces her new calling.

Russell’s ambitious story pulses with what readers want from the genre: palace intrigue, family secrets, grueling training exercises, and dramatic events all involving an engaging cast and set against a fresh and vivid alien world. The Delions are not only rumored to have kidnapped Zaed women for a nefarious breeding program, but also possess a device that can transport them to another planet called Earth. After a tragedy involving his wife and unborn child, Vasco plots to attack the Delions and steal the device. Meanwhile, Zaed Lieutenant Kov who escaped from the Delions is acting strangely. And Blahom is preoccupied by two love interests: the intense warrior Jhapalle and Rasheed, the flirty easy-going adopted son of her uncle.

A welcome focus on black characters as the protagonists and heroes, and convincingly detailed rituals and world building overcome minor flaws in storytelling, such as a tendency toward exposition, some uneven pacing, and some plot threads left to be picked up in future volumes. Still, there’s much here that dazzles, and young adult readers and fans of unique fantasy cultures will enjoy this majestic new mythology. QR codes embedded in the text link to additional material available to club members.

Takeaway: Plucky Goddess Warriors defend their planet in this epic debut.

Comparable Titles: Alechia Dow’s A Song of Salvation, Maura Milan’s Ignite the Stars.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A