A serviceable ending to a historical fantasy series that shifts between provocatively imagined and culturally clueless.

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ROAR OF SKY

The conclusion to Cato’s (Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories, 2017, etc.) Blood of Earth trilogy takes its magically gifted young heroine to Hawaii on a quest to understand both herself and her extraordinary powers so she can save the world and the people she loves.

After using her unusually potent earth-based magic to escape the clutches of Ambassador Blum, the ruthless kitsune who is trying to engineer the social and military ascendancy of Japan in Cato’s alternate 1906 world, Ingrid finds herself physically weakened and in constant pain. She flees to Hawaii on an airship in the company of her lover, Cy, and their friend Fenris, hoping to confirm her suspicion that she is descended from Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, earth, and fire. Ingrid’s time on Hawaii features a fascinating descent into the crater of Kilauea alongside a group of bumbling tourists, an uncomfortable backdrop of entrenched racism, and a sobering reflection on the consequences of power and personal choices. When their airship leaves the islands, Ingrid and her companions find themselves thrust back into the world of political and military intrigue and must race to California and then on to Arizona to confront their enemies and save their friends. Cato’s alternate history, dominated by the Japanese-American alliance of the United Pacific and vicious racism against the Chinese, combines elements of actual history with the idea of an America influenced on every level, whether for good or ill, by a foreign culture. This interesting exercise of imagination is energized by Cato’s likable characters but reveals some awkward authorial privilege. Cultural details, other languages, and the experience of living as a person of color are all often deployed with enthusiasm that feels, at best, like a tourist’s appreciation and, at worst, like clumsy appropriation.

A serviceable ending to a historical fantasy series that shifts between provocatively imagined and culturally clueless.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-269225-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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