ANGELICA

An impressive step forward for the versatile Phillips, who continues to engage, surprise and entertain.

A symphony of psychological complexity and misdirection in four increasingly tricky movements displays the varied wares of the gifted Phillips (The Egyptologist, 2004, etc.).

In a brooding family drama set in turn-of-the-century London (presumably the turn from the 19th to the 20th), former shopgirl Constance Barton begins to withdraw from her husband, Joseph (a medical researcher who had formerly served with the British Army), and into protective intimacy with their bewitching four-year-old daughter Angelica, whose birth had been preceded by several miscarriages. Fearful of enduring another failed pregnancy, Constance forsakes her husband’s bed, pleading that the sensitive Angelica needs her constantly. And, appalled by evidence of the “cruelty” of Joseph’s researches (i.e., mutilation and vivisection of animals), repelled by his evident masculine needs, Constance persuades herself that she sees proof of both malign ghostly presences invading their home and the more-than-fatherly interest shown toward Angelica by Joseph (born Bartone, hence of hot-blooded ancestry). Is Constance mad, or does she alone sense the presence of unspeakable evil? Phillips juggles possibilities almost as adroitly as did Henry James in this novel’s likely inspiration, The Turn of the Screw—and he ups the ante in successive narratives focused on the duplicitous spiritualist (“Anne Montague”) engaged by Constance, who quickly falls under this formidable older woman’s not-entirely-professional influence; “Joseph Barton” himself, who gradually emerges as rather less a villain than an ingenuous victim; and finally “Angelica,” years after the novel’s major events, when she has learned—but still does not fully understand—the personal histories that set her formerly loving parents at incompatible odds. A further mystery is found in the identity of the narrator, neatly revealed late in the story (though less of a surprise than Phillips perhaps intends). Elegant writing abounds, as do probing characterizations and flashes of wit (the two nicely conjoined in the figure of self-important, gourmandizing consulting psychologist Doctor Miles).

An impressive step forward for the versatile Phillips, who continues to engage, surprise and entertain.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6251-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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NINTH HOUSE

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

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

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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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