A cautionary dystopian tale about the redemptive qualities of retribution.

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In the Shadow of the Witch

White (Strands, 2016) examines the narrow difference between justice and revenge in this paranormal thriller.

This novel’s reluctant antihero is Trevor, a blacksmith and family man living in a dystopian Western land. Trevor’s happy life is upended when his young son, Jake, contracts a terminal illness. Traditional medicine fails Jake, so desperate Trevor resorts to consulting with the mysterious Coma Witch. She heals Jake, but her price is that Trevor must kill another young boy, Kyle. When Trevor can’t bring himself to do that, the witch murders his family in the most gruesome way possible. This sets the ill-equipped Trevor on a path to retribution: “The souls of his family could not rest until he took vengeance upon the witch, and he could not contemplate how to accomplish that while haunted by their ghostly presence.” The witch taunts Trevor as she draws him across a spectral landscape littered with technologies past. During his pursuit, he meets a shaman, Rakesh, another victim of the witch, who trains him in the use of dark and light forces. His only requirement: “You never give up. You kill her or she kills you. Those are the only two outcomes.” Imbued with the darkta power, Trevor fights the witch’s many surrogates before confronting her in a final battle in her home territory. White admirably chronicles Trevor’s journey from innocent to someone possibly as ruthless as his quarry. As the witch explains, all is not as it seems: “The truth and power of the darkta? There is nothing to fear in it. Its chaos is that which allows light to shine and it is powerful at stripping away facades and illusions.” White’s strength lies in his descriptions of the scarred landscape that Trevor must cross in his quest (“At the road’s terminus stood a white church, black shutters hanging askew like broken teeth in a crooked grin”). But the drawback here involves the book’s grim plot, starting with familicide, then never getting any lighter, and ultimately conveying the message that revenge remains a double-edged sword. In addition, the story lacks a satisfying conclusion, after pages of doom and gloom.

A cautionary dystopian tale about the redemptive qualities of retribution.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944830-02-1

Page Count: 174

Publisher: Dark Revelations Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 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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THE VANISHING HALF

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.

THE RESCUE

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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