STRANDLOPER

A strange mix of realistic narrative and incantatory folk materials by Garner (author of a number of YA and children's fantasy novels) results in a work that is likely to leave most readers scratching their heads in bewilderment. Set in the late 18th century, it's the story of William Buckley (a real person, the dust jacket informs us), an English villager who, having performed in a reenactment of an ancient fertility ritual, is arrested, charged with "lewdness and Popery," and transported to a prison camp in "New Holland" (Australia). After escaping, Buckley is taken in by a tribe of Aborigines (who call themselves "the People") and soon thereafter comes to be revered as their hero-god Murrangurk, whose appearance was long ago foretold in the prophetic creation ritual they call "the Dreaming" (at which skill the transformed Buckley proves almost preternaturally adept). Eventually spotted by white colonialists, Buckley/Murrangurk/Strandloper (this last term denoting a further incarnation) is employed as a translator and given a "King's Pardon," then returns to his Cheshire home for the mixed blessing of a hesitant reunion with the woman he formerly loved, who may have borne his child. All of this is related in a crabbed, terse prose compounded of rustic British slang, Miltonic verse, folk songs and nursery rhymes, and the ornate language of both Church of England rituals and the Latin Mass. It's often very beautiful, especially when describing tenets of the Aborigines' faith ("In the Beginning, when the waters parted, and the Ancestors dreamed all that is, and woke the life that slept, the sky lay on the earth, and the sun could not move, until the Magpie lifted the earth with a stick"). Too often, though, this severely gnomic fiction scorns to render scene or incident clearly, leaving even the most willing reader unsure of what's happening on any given page. This may be a marvelous novel. It's hard to tell.

Pub Date: June 15, 1997

ISBN: 1-86046-160-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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