Classification: potboiler. Substance: adequate.

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THE INEXPLICABLES

Another in Priest’s Clockwork Century series (Ganymede, 2011, etc.), set in a late-Victorian alternate America where the Civil War never ended, whose chief ingredients are steampunk, supernatural and pulp Western.

Orphan Rector Sherman has reached his 18th birthday and so must leave the orphanage. He isn’t particularly sad to go, having made a living as a dealer in the drug “sap.” Unfortunately, he’s addicted to the drug himself and haunted by the ghost of Zeke Wilkes, whom he helped sneak into the walled-off city of Seattle and who almost certainly is dead. To lay the ghost, Rector must enter Seattle himself—a fearsome undertaking, since the city is full of a corrosive yellow gas (the raw material from which sap is derived) and swarming with zombies, or “rotters.” Once inside, Rector runs into the Doornails, a mixed-race group who are trying to make the city livable, and learns of another faction led by gangster and drug dealer Yaozu. He’s chased by a gigantic apelike creature, rarely glimpsed, that the locals refer to as an “inexplicable.” And he makes a couple of friends: puppylike Zeke, who’s neither dead nor resentful, and young Chinese know-it-all Houjin, who see to it that he acquires the necessary gas mask and gloves for protection against the gas. Less happily, he’s summoned by Yaozu, who knows of Rector and his previous business. Yaozu is concerned that the rotters are disappearing, and if the rotters can get out, others—creatures, people—can get in, and Yaozu has no wish to fight off a succession of gang lords coming up from California. This gritty, intensely realized setting isn’t backed up by a similarly robust plot, and readers not partial to mouthy teenagers will find few other characters with any depth.

Classification: potboiler. Substance: adequate.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2947-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Entertaining, though not in the league of J.K. Rowling—or even Anne Rice. But please, people: no more vamps and wizards, OK?

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES

From the All Souls Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Harry Potter meets Lestat de Lioncourt. Throw in a time machine, and you’ve got just about everything you need for a full-kit fantasy.

The protagonist is a witch. Her beau is a vampire. If you accept the argument that we’ve seen entirely too many of both kinds of characters in contemporary fiction, then you’re not alone. Yet, though Harkness seems to be arriving very late to a party that one hopes will soon break up, her debut novel has its merits; she writes well, for one thing, and, as a historian at the University of Southern California, she has a scholarly bent that plays out effectively here. Indeed, her tale opens in a library—and not just any library, but the Bodleian at Oxford, pride of England and the world. Diana Bishop is both tenured scholar and witch, and when her book-fetcher hauls up a medieval treatise on alchemy with “a faint, iridescent shimmer that seemed to be escaping from between the pages,” she knows what to do with it. Unfortunately, the library is crammed with other witches, some of malevolent intent, and Diana soon finds that books can be dangerous propositions. She’s a bit of a geek, and not shy of bragging, either, as when she trumpets the fact that she has “a prodigious, photographic memory” and could read and write before any of the other children of the coven could. Yet she blossoms, as befits a bodice-ripper no matter how learned, once neckbiter and renowned geneticist Matthew Clairmont enters the scene. He’s a smoothy, that one, “used to being the only active participant in a conversation,” smart and goal-oriented, and a valuable ally in the great mantomachy that follows—and besides, he’s a pretty good kisser, too. “It’s a vampire thing,” he modestly avers.

Entertaining, though not in the league of J.K. Rowling—or even Anne Rice. But please, people: no more vamps and wizards, OK?

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02241-0

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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