A witty tale that revels deeply in computer-game tropes.

CRONICA ACADIA

BEND SINISTER

Four young men find themselves transported into a massive, online, role-playing game in this fantasy debut.

Dangalf works at the state unemployment office. His expensive and prestigious college degree remains unused and he hates his job, which offers no creative outlet and saps his individuality. He lives only to play Cronica, a fantasy computer game in which he interacts with other players to complete missions. Dangalf, his roommate Doppelganger, and two others—Elftrap and Nerdraaage—form a team called the Keepers of the Broken Blade. One morning, after a typical long night of button-mashing, Dangalf wakes to a pigeon crashing into his bedroom window. In the kitchen, he and Doppelganger learn that there are two pigeons vying for their attention. The birds carry messages stating: “Heroes, seekers, mercenaries, and adventurers, a quest awaits you!” This prompt matches the one in Cronica. The roommates drive to a secluded wood and find an inn that could have popped up from the game. They also meet in person, for the first time, the young men who play as Nerdraaage and Elftrap (the latter being a handsome guy despite using a female avatar). After detecting four gold coins inside the inn, they drop them into a well outside. The players wake up—in the bodies of their fantasy characters—in a place they recognize as Acadia. For his tale, Deering appeals to readers who have enjoyed The Lord of the Rings series and gamers hooked on World of Warcraft. He doesn’t shy away from the pointed analysis that “Cronica provided...camaraderie, discovery, conquest, and honor,” things that most players “found lacking” in real life. Much of the novel, however, unfolds like a video game, with dwarf, elf, and human characters completing tasks suited to their paths of achievement (slaying dire wolves, for example). While clever, this makes the narrative feel cloistered, for the operations overshadow the mystery of how the heroes arrived in Cronica. Still, the subplot involving Dangalf’s romantic obsession with Elftrap (or Ashlyn, as she renames herself), as well as the machinations of the villain Regicide, should have fans swooping back for the sequel.

A witty tale that revels deeply in computer-game tropes.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-89991-5

Page Count: 494

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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