Worth reading for the writing alone, but the close will confound and frustrate many readers; a sequel may be the only remedy.



Signs, wonders, and witchcraft beset 17th-century France in Australian author Womersley's (Cairo, 2014, etc.) fourth novel.

This grim but spellbinding book is a danse macabre to the tune of Womersley’s incantatory prose. The year is 1673. In the rural hamlet of Saint-Gilles, Charlotte Picot’s husband dies of plague. Now she has only her son, Nicolas, her other three children having succumbed to various illnesses. Hoping to avoid contagion, mother and son flee their village. On the road, marauders ambush the pair: Nicolas is kidnapped. Charlotte, wounded and delirious, wanders in a Bruegel-ian dreamscape but is healed by Marie Rolland, a hermit witch. Marie passes her knowledge and her black book to Charlotte, instructing her to use them wisely, advice Charlotte almost immediately ignores. Thinking she is summoning a demon, she's actually crossed paths with a man named Adam Lesage, who, released after five years as a galley slave, is on his way back to Paris. In order to bend him to her will and enlist his aid in reaching Paris to look for Nicolas, she threatens to cast him back. She means to hell; Lesage thinks she means to the galleys. Almost immediately, the reader's credulity is challenged: Lesage (based on a known sorcerer later caught up in a plot against the Sun King) seems too jaded and sophisticated for such a misapprehension. Womersley’s Paris is a tableau vivant of repellent sights and scents, overcrowding, nonexistent sanitation, and abject poverty. Lesage rejoins his Parisian accomplices: charlatans, magicians, and witches who profitably exploit the superstitions of the spoiled nobility. Desperate to escape his imagined bondage, he traces Nicolas’ whereabouts to a den of child traffickers and agrees to ransom him—in return for his help in recovering a hidden treasure. Fascinating historical truths clash with swashbuckler tropes until Womersley’s only way out is through improbable plot development and puzzling character behavior.

Worth reading for the writing alone, but the close will confound and frustrate many readers; a sequel may be the only remedy.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60945-470-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.


Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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