Heightened storytelling and characterization uplift a familiar spies-chase-superpowered-kid premise.

HOLLIS WHITTAKER

In this debut novel, a boy finds an ancient medallion that elevates his scientific knowledge to superhuman level—which makes him a quarry for ruthless American government agents.

In Shanahan’s SF thriller, the title character is a 10-year-old Virginia schoolboy who finds a miraculous artifact—actually an ancient Navajo medallion called the “Nílch’I”—in a stream bed. A prologue has informed readers that the object was stolen from the United States government at the end of World War II by a Rita Hayworth–lookalike, secretary Eleanor Cole, who was brutally gunned down during an escape attempt. But in 2020, the recovered artifact amps up Hollis Whittaker’s knowledge of math and science considerably—astronomically, in fact. When Hollis remaps the whole solar system and proves the long-theorized existence of a 10th planet beyond Pluto, the fifth grader becomes famous overnight, though all the slightly overweight boy can say about the matter is that it’s “cool.” When an antiques dealer posts an image of the medallion online for enthusiasts, she is summarily murdered. Hollis soon becomes the object of a nationwide hunt, along with his more outgoing best friend, Kirby Cooper-Quinn, and their mysterious but rather maladroit savior, a young Native American woman from New Mexico out of her element. Action periodically returns to the 1945 backstory of Eleanor and her #MeToo–type dealings with sleazy military brass (World War II Americans don’t exactly earn their “Greatest Generation” stripes here). Shanahan’s prose is on target throughout, carrying the pursuit-driven story forward as smooth as a bullet’s trajectory, although the mystique of the book’s MacGuffin medallion gets traded in for an explanation that is one of SF’s hoariest clichés. The denouement depends on a revelation of hitherto unknown superpowers that may signal a sequel. The voices of the young characters are especially convincing, with a nice touch that even with his augmented IQ, Hollis remains a firmly ordinary, unprepossessing boy whose reaction to most everything is pretty much “cool.” Even with the violence and swearing, this tale would still rate as YA material (pretty cool stuff, at that), albeit for a precociously cynical adolescent readership with no trust in government authorities except as killers.

Heightened storytelling and characterization uplift a familiar spies-chase-superpowered-kid premise. (author bio)

Pub Date: June 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64599-046-8

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Encircle Publications, LLC

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2020

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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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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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