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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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