A tangled but rich horror story that imagines a secret occult history of Europe.

THE NOSFERATU CONSPIRACY

BOOK TWO: THE SOMMELIER

A supernatural rivalry fuels World War I in this alternative-history sequel.

Vampire attacks have ravaged St. Petersburg and gutted the Russian royal family. An ancient castle has reappeared on a German mountaintop, and a coven of demon worshippers has just resurrected an entity known as the Death Witch in the body of a teenage girl. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II is desperately seeking a small bottle of blood—so frantically, in fact, that he was willing to orchestrate the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand rather than let his rival find it before he did. (The ghost of the archduke now haunts the Kaiser as an act of posthumous revenge.) The blood belongs to none other than the famous medieval warlock Vlad Drăculea, and the Kaiser believes it will grant immortality to him and his mistress. The bottle is currently in the possession of Vlad’s younger brother, Radu cel Frumos, an immortal witch hunter who has survived the intervening centuries using a series of false identities, the latest of which is the Sommelier. The only thing standing in the way of the Kaiser and the domination of Europe by a cabal of diabolical forces are the Russian vampire hunters Prince Felix Yusupov and Rurik Kozlov, who recently helped prevent great devastation in Russia. A clash is coming, and it will happen in the vicinity of the French city of Arras. Gage excels at unsettling readers through his sharp, startling imagery: “The sound of animal hooves and snorting filled the room, followed by a loud bang. Felix looked up and was astonished to see the officer being gored against the wall by a large boar with sharp tusks. The man looked panicked and surprised as he slid down the wall, finally falling unconscious.” The story takes a while to get rolling, leading with a lot of complex mythology that at times feels weighty or silly. But once things begin in earnest, the tale proves an immersive and monster-filled epic. It turns out the only thing scarier than the vampires and demons is World War I itself.

A tangled but rich horror story that imagines a secret occult history of Europe.

Pub Date: March 20, 2022

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 654

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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