A lush, poetic tale that will charm readers.

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEACOCK

From the Birds of Fae series , Vol. 1

In Johnson’s fantasy novella, a man hopes to win the heart of a princess who once gave him hope after a tragedy.

On the isle of Maluhia, Kaipo climbs the Forbidden Mountain. A fall from such a great height could easily kill him, but he makes the climbs due to his love for Princess Mele, whose father, King Ahanu, wants her to marry. Kaipo has terrible burns on his left side and back, which he received after he tried to save his mother from intentional self-immolation. He failed, but while he was convalescing, he received a visit from the princess, whose kindness gave him a reason “to move forward” in life. Climbing with him is his adoptive brother, Rahj, whom Kaipo’s father rescued from slavery. At the top of the mountain, they hope to meet the Fae Queen, Jaya, who grants wishes to those who survive the trek. Kaipo plans to ask for beauty—and specifically, the erasure of his scars—because he believes that Mele “deserves to have a husband as beautiful as she is.” In her garden paradise, Jaya warns the pair that “there is a great difference between beauty that comes from magic and the beauty that is shaped inside the heart”—and she then turns Kaipo into a peacock. At the bottom of the mountain, he and Rahj awake to face Pravin the Great Protector, who might feed Kaipo to his soldiers if the peacock isn’t careful. Johnson’s brief fantasy offers readers a fine lesson in narrative economy, as she brings nothing onstage that doesn't serve the novella’s romance plot. It turns out, for example, that Pravin also wants to wed Mele, and he assumes that their wedding will be swift and uncontested. Fans of satirical fantasy classics, such as William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (1973), will enjoy watching the loutish Pravin lose ground to Kaipo despite the fact that the latter is unable to speak a word. Johnson gracefully intertwines Rahj’s tale with his brother’s, as well. The joyous finale is satisfying, but readers will likely crave more of Johnson’s world.

A lush, poetic tale that will charm readers.

Pub Date: May 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948464-74-1

Page Count: 106

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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