Fans of heavy metal–style sword slashing nastiness will take to this outlandish adventure.

HALFWATER

An illustrated novel about an unlikely hero and his adventures in a violent future.

From debut authors Zielinski and Stempka comes Boldizar Halfwater, a handyman drug addict who, at 5 feet 6 inches tall and “barely weighing over 100 pounds when fully clothed…was not an imposing figure.” Boldizar lives alone in a dusty, humble dwelling, fueling his days with cocaine and general indifference. “Simply put—he was lazy, and preferred to spend more time relaxing with a cool drink and a pile of drugs than toiling in his workshop fixing broken items.” After fixing a mechanical dog washer and polisher for local tough man Billy Von Bixby, Boldizar’s lazy life abruptly changes. Upon delivery of the repaired item, Boldizar inexplicably murders Billy with a pocket knife. Why would Boldizar murder one of the most dangerous men in town? Even he isn’t sure. Fortunately for Boldizar, his friend Reginald is around with his horse Alabama Cush. The two escape to the woods, where they are pursued by the corpulent, cannibalistic Bittertight (“Small pieces of food spit and hopped out of his flapping jaws like fleas from a dogs bark”), head of the Goughnuts Guard. Once out of immediate danger, Boldizar learns that the dog polisher contains a glowing blue pendant, leading him to ask, “What kind of fucked up jewelry is this?” So begins a quest to find out just what kind of jewelry it is while avoiding capture from the feared Bittertight. Encountering everything from a powerful gladiator to a Screamicorn, a “demonically hellish red horse” that kills its victims with a scream, the hero has multiple zany, gory exploits. The overall outrageousness of events will excite readers unperturbed by exploding body parts and allusions to crude sexual practices (“Usually he would look to mastiffs to service his sexual needs since they couldn’t judge him, and the rules of bestiality were long since forgotten”). While Boldizar himself does not prove the most intriguing hero, his story involves enough peripheral inventiveness to please readers of similar works.

Fans of heavy metal–style sword slashing nastiness will take to this outlandish adventure.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499372342

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2014

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some White people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only White avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, White people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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