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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SUMMER SISTERS

The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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