Should appeal to grimdark fans looking for the extreme edge; others may well find it nasty, brutish, and not short enough.

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THE COURT OF BROKEN KNIVES

From the Empires of Dust series , Vol. 1

Fantasy debut and first of a series from an author whose Twitter handle is @queenofgrimdark; it first appeared earlier this year in the U.K.

For those unacquainted, “grimdark” is a subgenre sometimes characterized as anti-Tolkien or nihilistic, though more generally referring to grunge fantasy featuring unremitting gory violence, characters with few or no redeeming virtues, and an atmosphere of gloom and doom. As the once-mighty Sekemleth Empire crumbles, Lord Orhan Emmereth decides a change of governance is necessary and organizes a conspiracy to murder the emperor and all his chief advisers. He hires a company of mercenaries—who more resemble Shakespearean rude mechanicals than professional killers—to infiltrate the impregnable city of Sorlost and do the deed. Led by the thoughtful Tobias and featuring a mysteriously well-educated, nervous young drug addict named Marith—who manages to kill a dragon along the way—the company reaches the city. Expect betrayal inside deception wrapped in double-dealing, a gory slaughterfest, and the revelation of Marith’s true identity. Taking advantage of the ensuing chaos, Thalia, the powerful high priestess of the official religion, which features child sacrifice, whose fate is to be killed by her successor, escapes the temple only to fall in with Tobias, Marith, and company, where she becomes utterly entranced by Marith’s physical beauty. Those impressed by frequent, graphic, almost Monty Python–ish bloody violence and characters with no claim to righteousness will find much to admire here. Others will marvel at a yarn of 450-plus pages whose plot contains so little of real substance and whose main character is a homicidal psychopath with no intriguing or sympathetic qualities whatsoever.

Should appeal to grimdark fans looking for the extreme edge; others may well find it nasty, brutish, and not short enough.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-51142-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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