Intriguing and with enough potential bubbling underneath to keep readers agreeably optimistic about future installments.

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THE OVERSIGHT

First of a Dickensian supernatural—or, as Fletcher prefers it, “supranatural”—fantasy trilogy, from the screenwriter and author of Stoneheart (2006, etc.).

The Oversight, a secret society that patrols the borders between the mundane and the magical, lost most of its membership during the Napoleonic Wars. Now only five remain: Sara Falk, a “Glint” who can view past events by touching objects associated with them; Cook, an ex-pirate; rat-catcher Hodge, who has an affinity for associates Jed the terrier and the ancient Raven; Wayland Smith; and the eerie Mr. Sharp. Also on the premises is Emmet, a golem. If their numbers dip below five (called a Hand), their powers and control dissipate. At the Hand’s London safe house arrives Lucy Harker; she speaks only French, mistrusts them and turns out to be a Glint—and bait for a trap set by mysterious folk-monsters called Sluagh. Also involved are lawyer twins Zebulon and Issachar Templebane and sociopathic wizard-scientist Viscount Mountfellen. The plotters seek the key to controlling the dark side of the universe. Accordingly, Lucy, under a compulsion implanted in her mind by the Sluagh to steal the key, blunders into a magic cabinet of mirrors. In avoiding the cabinet’s guardian cobra, she falls into one of the mirrors and vanishes, shattering the mirror. Sara tries to grab Lucy, but the mirror lops off her hand, which vanishes to wherever Lucy went—though somehow it’s still attached. A remarkable combination of British folklore, brisk pacing and wide-ranging imagination is enhanced by multiple narrative strands, some not yet fully revealed, and set forth in evocative prose. Set against all this, unfortunately, are characters imbued with a particular monomania rather than genuine personality and presence.

Intriguing and with enough potential bubbling underneath to keep readers agreeably optimistic about future installments.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-27951-2

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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