A smoothly executed fantasy that feels buoyant even while exploring themes of abandonment and redemption.



This YA novel sees a girl discover a parallel world and the truth about her lineage.

Maray Johnson has received an ornate dagger for her 16th birthday. Her father, Gerwin, tells her it once belonged to her grandmother Rhia. Maray’s mother, Laura, left five years ago to live in Texas. Father and daughter have recently moved from Washington, D.C., to Vienna because Gerwin is an ambassador for an IT company. Later, Maray strolls in a lovely, deserted park. Suddenly, fog develops and she sees two men sword fighting. When one of the men loses, Maray rushes to help him. This is 17-year-old Jemin Boyd, who’s badly wounded. Nevertheless, he’s able to defend her against a wolf-bear called a Yutu. He then says: “You look so much like the queen regent…I have no other option than to take you with me.” They travel through a tunnel of fog to the world of Allinan. There, Maray meets Jemin’s noble friend Hendrick “Heck” Brendal and learns that she’s a dead ringer for the queen, who hasn’t been seen in public for 18 years. Allinan becomes even stranger when Maray witnesses magic alongside the warlock Corey—magic that she initiates. Do further secrets connect her with this realm? Steffort (The Wings Trilogy, 2019, etc.) brings narrative sleekness to her latest YA fantasy, balancing romance, humor, and unique takes on familiar monsters. While in the futuristic-yet-medieval Allinan, Maray plays it cool, learning of demons that sow “seeds of distrust and destruction” and quipping: “That sounds a lot like the girls in high school.” The author pays homage to classic horror when the Yutu’s blood confers on one character (Ambassador Cardrick Langley) transformative abilities and when readers learn exactly why the queen has been hiding for 18 years. The true star of the novel is its elegant structure, which delivers twists with organic regularity. Sweetness and the promise of new love flourishing characterize the finale, leaving Steffort fertile ground on which to build a sequel.

A smoothly executed fantasy that feels buoyant even while exploring themes of abandonment and redemption.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2019


Page Count: 266

Publisher: MK

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2019

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


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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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