A work with a compelling hook and fine character development, although its lack of resolution is disappointing.

THE ENCANTO

LA FOG

Several Angelenos become embroiled in identity crises following contact with a strange artifact in this SF novel.

Mega-rich tycoon Evan York, 67, has spared no expense or trouble to track down a Mayan relic he calls the Encanto. But something goes wrong during the handover, and the seller, Luis Luna, is later found dead, beaten to death with a baseball bat by a paraplegic man in a wheelchair. Investigating the case is police detective Saul Parker, an avid amateur magician who’s acutely conscious of his weight. Meanwhile, 36-year-old Gray Wilson dreams of quitting his job as a “code-writing robot” in a cubicle to take up painting again, although he’s in denial about his drinking problem and his family is in financial straits ever since his wife, Claire, quit her job to take care of their young daughter. Claire suffers from insomnia and spends her days in an exhausted haze; one of her few recreations is following the career of Ashley York—Evan’s daughter, who’s a Paris Hilton–like aspiring actress. It’s just one of many connections that form between the novel’s many players. Wayob, a sinister, murderous figure connected with the evil Encanto, interferes in these disparate lives, creating confounding intersections as part of his own diabolical plan. In his second SF novel, Swan offers an intriguing premise that centers on the mysterious artifact. The book’s chief strength, however, is not in how it details the paranormal elements but in how those elements serve characterization. Swan lays crucial groundwork early, sketching out players that are multifaceted, complex, flawed, and struggling to grasp their hearts’ desires. He then ups the ante by shaking up their existences and making the characters fruitfully reexamine their identities, relationships, and choices. The novel ends, however, with many loose strings dangling—too many, really, even for the first book in a planned series.

A work with a compelling hook and fine character development, although its lack of resolution is disappointing.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9965605-3-5

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Swanfall

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2021

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On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

NEVER

A complex, scary thriller that feels too plausible for comfort.

Republican President Pauline Green is trying to steer the United States through a dangerous world. China spends billions in Africa to extend its global influence, while North African countries like Chad are beset by criminals and terrorists. But that’s secondary to the real problem: Rebels in North Korea try to overthrow the Communist dynasty and reunite the North and South, which scares the bejesus out of China. They fear the peninsula’s reunification, “a euphemism for takeover by the capitalist West.” The Chinese believe America and Europe want to destroy China “and would stop at nothing," so the last thing they need is a bordering nation with West-leaning sympathies. And domestically, Green faces “blowhard” wannabe president Sen. James Moore, who thinks there’s no point in having nukes if you won’t use them. Even her personal life is complicated: Her husband “was a good lover, but she had never wanted to tear his clothes off with her teeth.” In fact, the first spouses are quietly drifting apart. Yet she “could not fall in love” with another man. “It would be a hurricane, a train crash, a nuclear bomb.” Speaking of which, both superpowers have ironclad commitments to protect their allies, even if some crazy third parties get their hands on nuclear weapons. Will China and the U.S. be drawn into all-out war neither wants? This novel deals with the same great-power issues as Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis’ recent 2034, and both will give you the willies. Follett could have cut back on the North African subplot and delivered a tighter yarn, but then you mightn’t have learned that “a helicopter glides like a grand piano.” Anyway, that’s Follett: You’ll be so absorbed in the story threads that you’ll follow them anywhere—and you’ll suddenly realize you’ve read hundreds of pages.

On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-59-330001-5

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Another adventure-packed treat for fans of the Ryan family.

TOM CLANCY CHAIN OF COMMAND

A kidnapping prompts President Jack Ryan to temporarily step aside.

Criminals force “some poor schmuck” to fly his Cessna toward the White House and the Capitol, and a pair of F-16s prepare to shoot him down. So begins a convoluted plot to stop President Ryan from pushing through a Pharma Independence bill vehemently opposed by Indian foreign minister Varma. (Varma vs. Pharma—hmm.) Anyway, the bad guys kidnap first lady Cathy Ryan, and what’s a Clancy thriller without fighting and skulduggery in far-flung reaches of the world, with do-good American doctors who stand to be executed as no-good spies in a part of Afghanistan so remote that even the Taliban doesn’t go there? As fans will remember, Cathy, a world-class ophthalmic surgeon, is the love of the president’s life. Knowing his own deep emotional involvement, he sees the need to temporarily cede constitutional power to the newly minted Vice President Dehart. (VP Hargrave has suddenly died.) Yes, the first lady might not survive—wherever she is—but the president must put country above all else. The plot even includes a possibly rogue Chinese cross-border incursion onto the Roof of the World, a testy top-level chat with China’s president, and an encounter with the Argentine border patrol. And with Aussies and Brits who’ve fought in Africa and who may kill Cathy, the story is like No Continent Left Behind. So yeah, the plot sort of holds together, but wouldn’t stopping the drug bill have been lots easier using the tried-and-true method of buying off a few U.S. senators? As a White House official muses, there’s “no easy explanation for human stupidity—or violence.” In other words, this is vintage Clancy, may he rest in peace, with plenty of fast-paced excitement in locales galore.

Another adventure-packed treat for fans of the Ryan family.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18816-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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