An entertaining adventure with complex characters and downright cool concepts for advanced technology and metaphysical...

PHANTOM PACT

THE BEARER'S BURDEN

In Queen’s debut sci-fi novel, a man whose powers come from the souls of the departed must figure out why masses of people are vanishing before there’s no one left to save.

Cade Elegy is a member of the Bearers of Phantoms, a special force that make pacts with the dead to gain special abilities—the ability to “encode,” or transform their bodies into various substances, such as diamond, tungsten, and wood. It aids him in the fight against the Wraiths, an alien species that’s invaded the planet. Cade fought in a war against them a year ago, and although humans were victorious, some Wraiths still remain—and now entire cities of humans are disappearing. Cade has a mystery to solve, in addition to a desire to avenge those he lost in the war, but there’s one problem: His power comes at a price. Bearers of Phantoms who bear too many souls run the risk of destroying their own minds. The stakes are high. Will Cade be able to hold onto his sanity long enough to make a difference, or will he succumb to the phantoms that reside within him? He’s aided by a princess, an archaeologist, and an ancient artificial intelligence built by an extinct people who left technology behind that humanity barely knows how to use. Queen’s thorough worldbuilding paints vivid portraits of Cade’s home, its cities, its technology, and its threats, although there’s too light a touch when exploring the motives of the Wraiths and, at times, overly complicated detail regarding belief systems or abilities. That said, the narrative “encodes” different genres effortlessly, drawing on elements of traditional sci-fi, steampunk fantasy, Westerns, and political dramas. Each character is a delight to follow, motivated by distinct drives and desires. It would be easy for secondary players around Cade, such as rebel princess Ashlyn Winshire and bookish archaeologist Jace Exile, to be overshadowed by Cade’s lone-ranger heroism, but they’re given their own independent agency, and it’s made clear that Cade’s desire to save the world alone is unsustainable.

An entertaining adventure with complex characters and downright cool concepts for advanced technology and metaphysical abilities.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9998474-1-1

Page Count: 247

Publisher: Encoded Press

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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