An intriguing premise navigated by an affable heroine.

SIREN SONG

BOOK 1 OF THE SIREN SONG TRILOGY (VOLUME 1)

In this trilogy opener, Blackwood pulls readers into the world of fallen angels through the eyes of Ariel, a spunky college freshman.

Blackwood starts the action almost immediately, barely introducing Ariel before she’s attacked by someone demanding she give him something called the Piece of Home. She’s knocked out during the encounter and wakes up in a hospital to find Michael, the most gorgeous guy ever, who takes a sudden interest in Ariel that sometimes verges on being bipolar (although that’s explained later). Ariel continues to be randomly attacked, which leads her to force some answers out of Michael. She finds out that she was adopted and that Michael is a Descendant, a half-human child of an Exile, or fallen angel. The angels that fell from heaven split into two groups—those still following Lucifer and those who realized their mistake. Ariel learns that her biological mother found the family’s Piece of Home and the angels believe Ariel now has it. The book’s fast-paced action is easy to follow while still being suspenseful, and despite some one-note duds, most of the characters feel natural and help add depth to Ariel’s adventure. Especially likable is Barnaby, the goblin she befriends in the Exiles' sanctuary, who watches her back mostly via text message. Smart, strong Ariel is fairly likable, although she has an annoying habit of making acronyms out of seemingly everything. Her supposed love of complicated vocabulary isn’t particularly flattering since she tends to use big words sparingly, like someone trying to impress friends with words he or she doesn’t quite understand. Michael, on the other hand, is a stiffer character, and some of his actions don’t seem to make much sense. For this volume, their budding romance stays in an awkward stage that doesn’t really affect the plot, although that’s sure to change as the story progresses. Some solid twists and turns make for a quick, enjoyable read that promises to grow deeper in the next chapters.

An intriguing premise navigated by an affable heroine.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1479141364

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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