Engaging characters and an imaginative plot make for a satisfying read.


The War of Words

Neftzger’s fantasy novel refreshes the conventions of the genre while meeting readers’ expectations of it.

As a lead fighter in the king’s war against “the sorcerer” and his shadows, Kelsey must obey her general’s orders and report back on the number of casualties in each battle. But when a usually mute shadow speaks to her, she knows something has changed. And another strange sight—an obscured figure with a shadow companion feeding pieces of parchment into a fire and whispering a strange spell-like poem into the flames—has her considering the rumors about a mysterious book that no one can read, one that supposedly holds the secret to winning the war. Although the general refuses to listen to her, Kelsey has resources outside the battlefield. Nicholas and his friends and teachers (and a talking gargoyle named Newton) from his old academy have gathered together by way of “scrying,” or peering into a magic bowl filled with water in which they can hear and sense but only sometimes see each other. Kelsey’s information gets the group wondering about how they might assist in the battle against the sorcerer’s illusions and deceptions, while Kelsey tries to decipher the words written on the parchment she steals from the strange figure. What they find will depend upon their understandings of magic, reality, and truth, and it will irrevocably alter each of them—and the world. Neftzger takes popular elements of modern fantasy—the battle between truth and artifice, a plucky yet troubled protagonist, a group of bookish friends, a talking nonhuman entity—and creates a new landscape that will delight genre fans. While the prose sometimes takes a stilted, expository tone, Neftzger often transcends it with fresh images: “What made everything worse were the burrs that blew onto the battlefield and stuck to the soldiers’ clothing. It was like a storm of little sticky balls that were somehow carried on the wind, but also heavy enough to weigh down the soldiers.” The climax, in particular, affirms the power of language and storytelling. 

Engaging characters and an imaginative plot make for a satisfying read. 

Pub Date: March 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940894-17-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Fog Ink

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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