Generous action and a nonpreachy but Scripture-compatible spirituality uplift this Tolkien-esque journey.

THE CRYSTAL REALM: KRYTOR'S RETURN

Pursued by racists into Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves, teenage Nathan finds an incredible subterranean civilization, where he is a prophesied savior in a war against the ancient, demonic Krytor.

Australian author Ballantyne’s epic might pass the litmus as “Christian fiction,” despite an introductory disclaimer from the writer (a member of the LDS church) that Tolkien-style heroic fantasy was more his aim. Disconsolate after the loss of his parents, teen orphan Nathan Shepparton vagabonds into a small town near the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky and impulsively defends the area’s only black family against Klan thugs. Hunted by vengeful KKK into a neglected cavern, Nathan passes through a waterfall into the vast, incredible subterranean world of Thuromest. Here, pious Hebrew-speaking tribes fashion just about everything out of ubiquitous mineral crystal and have no knowledge of their origin before being brought to this place a few millennia ago. In hot pursuit of Nathan is the Klan leader and Aryan warlord Karl—but straightaway both have an even bigger villain to face: Krytor, a bat-winged devilish menace. Krytor was freed from his rock prison (on the Earth side) a few decades ago and now, having built up his armies of orcs, er, Gromms, plans to resume his ancient campaign of conquest of the worlds both below and above. The only weapons foretold as able to foil Krytor are three mystic gems. Nathan happens to possess one of them, the Key of Knowledge, which immediately confers (besides the LucasFilm ability to shoot out energy beams at enemies) on him the rank of “Lord Nathan” among the awestruck natives. While subtlety, especially in dialogue, is not Ballantyne’s strong suit, he does deploy a few unexpected narrative twists and one or two moral ambiguities. The most obvious of the latter is the no-goodnik bully-racist Karl poised to redeem himself (or…will he?) in succeeding volumes of what is a planned trilogy. Action rarely lets up, and readers with a taste for retro-30s-style pulp adventures set in exotic hollow-earth worlds will be tunneling through the final 100 pages eagerly and looking forward to the next installment.

Generous action and a nonpreachy but Scripture-compatible spirituality uplift this Tolkien-esque journey.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461084518

Page Count: 506

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2012

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

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DEVOLUTION

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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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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