An intriguing series starter that’s packed with colorful characters and detail.

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SOUL CENSUS

From the War of Shadows series , Vol. 1

In Vega’s (Majesty’s Offspring, 2011) action-packed fantasy, an American war veteran is recruited for an agency that tracks souls and battles for the fate of the universe.

In 1933, Willem Maddock is unemployed despite the flying expertise that he gained as a pilot during the Great War. Luckily, he meets Samantha Black, who offers him a job, albeit a peculiar one. Black is the director of the Census, a secret government agency that’s described as “something like an embassy between the living and dead.” Maddock initially teams up with Agent Wolfe to help Elder Quorum, the authority in the Spirit Realm, where most souls live. Maddock and Wolfe act as Census Enforcers, rounding up souls that escaped during an accident long ago. Their mission takes them to Germany in 1939 to battle Nazis as well as such supernatural creatures as red-eyed, taloned Rattlers, 9-foot-tall Furies, and souls that have turned into demons. They also aim to stop a sinister scheme to destroy the Sacred Tree, which will effectively end all reincarnation. That’s the first step in a process that will allow the “Oppressor,” aka Lucifer, to walk the Earth, and if the godlike Presence sees evil gaining the upper hand, it may “reset” the entire universe. Vega’s dense tale, the first in a planned series, ably fuses elements of religion with Norse and Greek mythologies. The hefty backstories involve one of Maddock’s past lives as well as what led to the aforementioned accident. The author keeps the narrative moving briskly toward an elaborate final act that’s rife with double-crossings and deception. The action scenes are entertaining and memorable: “Sizzling heads and limbs littered the ground. Some soldiers managed to get away, yelling and screaming, but the flames continued to eat them.” Maddock, however, isn’t the most likable protagonist, and although his 1930s-style vernacular is mostly fun, it also includes talking down to his formidable boss by calling her “doll.”

An intriguing series starter that’s packed with colorful characters and detail.

Pub Date: May 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5348-3873-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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