The indomitable, quick-on-the-draw Lizbeth remains an irresistible heroine, and Harris proves she still has the magic touch.

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A LONGER FALL

In the second installment of Harris’ weird Western series set in an alternate former United States (after An Easy Death, 2018), gunslinger/bodyguard for hire Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose must accompany a mysterious crate to its destination, but things go terribly wrong.

A long train ride east to the country of Dixie isn’t 19-year-old Lizbeth’s idea of a good time, but it is a job, and she needs it, especially since her last job left her with a long recovery and no crew. Her new troupe, the Lucky Crew, seems competent enough, and when Lizbeth spots some suspicious folks on the train, she’s pretty sure they’re about to be tested. A shootout precedes an explosion that engulfs the train. Someone must really want the Lucky Crew’s cargo. Lizbeth has been shot, her crew has been decimated, and the contents of the crate are gone, but she’s still got a job to do. When a blast from Lizbeth’s past—Eli Savarov, a grigori, or Russian wizard—shows up, Lizbeth discovers that he’s in search of whomever hired the Lucky Crew to deliver the crate. Lizbeth agrees to take a job as his bodyguard, and the two, posing as a married couple (it’s only proper) poke around the Louisiana town of Sally for clues that will lead them to the chest. They quickly realize the town is in racial turmoil: Slavery doesn’t technically exist, but it might as well considering the backward attitudes of the townsfolk and their shabby treatment of Sally’s black citizens. It all seems to lead to a powerful family that holds the town in its thrall, and, of course, the explosive contents of that troublesome crate. Lizbeth and Eli spend quite a bit of time on old-fashioned sleuthing (and, delightfully, between the sheets), but the action ratchets up exponentially in the surprising last half. Lizbeth is a no-nonsense, dryly funny narrator, and while this installment lacks a bit of the spark of the first book, it’s still a shoot’em-up, rollicking ride.

The indomitable, quick-on-the-draw Lizbeth remains an irresistible heroine, and Harris proves she still has the magic touch.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9495-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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