An inventive but uneven tale that explores the possibilities of creative freedom.

MAKING THE HORIZON

A modern-day fantasy debut focuses on the creation of a new world.

Keely Fletcher is a young writer who finds herself at a literary party. On her way home from the dull event, things take a strange turn. Keely is soon whisked away to a magical world where she, along with a collection of other creative types, is free to make whatever she wants with godlike powers. Keely has been sent there at the behest of a mage from another realm with a fondness for red shoes. She is joined by others, including a painter named Angel Montes and an architect called Reinhold Wynne. Kadro, as the mage comes to be known, keeps this new “Sandbox” and all it contains locked up in a bottle. He explains that he wants to create a new world but “he’s not imaginative enough to do it himself.” Although the world features many nuances, Keely and her cohorts wind up creating real forests of colorful trees, homes, and even living humanoids. But not everything is fun and games. This world also contains monsters, and the creators are not allowed to leave. It is the latter point that upsets many of them. It may sound exciting to fashion a new world, but what does it end up involving in practice? Daveler’s early chapters get the story up and running in an inviting way. What will people like Keely find once they are in the midst of a place that they could hardly ever have imagined? It is an enticing idea with near limitless possibilities, although the results are mixed. While one particularly deviant individual makes his own harem, others chatter about all the things they are missing from their normal lives. But is it really worth complaining about unpaid bills when one could, say, make a talking dragon? It will take some time for readers to process the assortment of intriguing individuals trapped in the bottle (not to mention their rich backstories). The real fun comes in seeing how this Twilight Zone–esque situation will play out. Keely and the others can’t remain trapped there forever. Or can they?

An inventive but uneven tale that explores the possibilities of creative freedom.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73313-452-1

Page Count: 379

Publisher: Block Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

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A sequel that repeats the mistakes of its predecessor while failing to break new ground.

THE LAST GRADUATE

A teenage witch with a natural affinity for dark magic prepares to run a deadly graduation gauntlet in this sequel to Novik's Deadly Education (2020).

Galadriel "El" Higgins has finally reached her senior year at the Scholomance, putting her one step closer to her ultimate goal: get back home or die trying. After getting a sneak peek at the monster-packed hallway she must survive if she wants to graduate, the witchy teen returns to her classes and cliques with scarcely more insight than before. El knows enough to realize that her mana stores are a fraction of what they should be—come graduation, she will lack the magical juice she needs to kill monsters and make it out alive. Her fake-dating relationship with Orion proves to be a lucky "in," netting her a new string of tenuous alliances as well as access to a wellspring of free mana. But what could be a compelling adventure story falls apart here, as the novel relies on relentless bouts of infodumping to keep readers up to speed on where the Scholomance's monsters come from and what they can do to unsuspecting students. None of these paragraphs-long blasts of information recount the details of El's last excursion, however, and so readers who have forgotten Novik's previous novel, or who have never read it at all, will find no springboard ready to help them dive into the author's newest offering. Those who stumble upon this volume risk being unmoored, as the narrative picks up immediately following the events of its predecessor, without stopping to introduce anything, including the narrator. Ultimately, El's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of every monster in the school, combined with her continued refusal to enter into any genuine alliance with classmates, leaves readers to wonder what she could possibly have left to learn—or fear—in the Scholomance.

A sequel that repeats the mistakes of its predecessor while failing to break new ground.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12886-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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