Rococo worldbuilding and sci-fi fantasy for the adventurous reader, relayed in language and description bordering on the...


Tearing Down The Statues

From the Salt Mystic series , Vol. 1

As an incredible realm sinks deeper and deeper into anarchy and warfare, a strange group of pilgrims embarks on an enigmatic mission.

Bennudriti, a professed admirer of cult fantasy writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake, makes his debut with this ambitious, fabulist sci-fi tale, the first in a series. He introduces the world of Naraia, a mix of distant past and remote future. While dirigibles and flying-fortress airships ply the skies and computer technology comes in liquid (and injectable) form, the streets and cities often devolve into wretched hives of scum and villainy. After the ruinous War of the Rupture, a corrupt society subsists under the unsteady regime of the Talgo warlord dynasty, having lost most ethical precepts of a messiah/prophet named “Salt Mystic” from 2,000 years ago (this Christ equivalent is one of the more accessible notions). Suddenly there appears a cocky troublemaker named Ring, on an esoteric quest to five unspoken destinations while warning his fellow travelers that it’s going to get “messy.” Ring recruits Misling, a young “Recorder,” whose sect follows and memorizes the deeds of the great and noteworthy to provide a full, immutable history. Misling violates the Recorder neutrality creed badly, as all-devouring nanoparticle bombs suddenly attack cities, terrifying synthetic plagues make ordinary folks homicidal lunatics, and invading hordes of a sadistic warrior nation called Red Witch suddenly appear. But the Red Witch combatants are hired mercenaries—so who is the prime evildoer at work? As events careen toward civil war, there may not even be a mastermind, just societal collapse, purges, and the culmination of age-old prophecies. Readers who want their plotlines proceeding from A to B will likely be lost in a snarl of undefined terminology and Bennudritian argot (“Although all flatrunner sailors were considered a bit mad in those days, feverishly electrostatic charges ripped from the very salt of the cotton-white flats, scouts like Munchy would be the first to tell of furious smoking skirmishes in the shimmering borderlands of his patrol”). It’s still a grand moment when digitally programmed tornadoes are unleashed as weapons of mass destruction. Good luck, however, figuring out (in this go-around, anyhow) what all the fighting and scheming is about. The title of a documentary about William Gibson comes to mind: No Maps for These Territories.

Rococo worldbuilding and sci-fi fantasy for the adventurous reader, relayed in language and description bordering on the experimental.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-55348-0

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2016

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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