Classification: potboiler. Substance: adequate.

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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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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