A deep dive into recognizable SF territory that’s made compelling by rich characterizations and details.

GAUNTLET

From the The Prodigy Chronicles series

In this third installment of a YA series, a 22nd-century teenager with superpowers plans an escape for an imprisoned friend while trying to navigate the intrigues of a powerful metropolis.

Fantasy/SF author Denault continues the Prodigy Chronicles that she started with Gambit (2015), detailing the 2160 odyssey of Willow Kent. Willow grew up thinking she was a mining village girl in the “Outlying Lands,” far from the advanced and privileged regional capital, the Core. In truth, she is the daughter of one of the Core’s most powerful and feared citizens. Willow was sent away as a baby, part of long-standing machinations involving genetically seeded “prodigies” with varied superpowers. Willow has blossomed into an especially formidable prodigy. Besides wielding telekinesis and force fields, she harbors a sentient inner force/alternative personality she calls “the tiger” and can barely keep leashed. Caging the tiger’s lethal fury becomes a regular thing. Willow, having been brought at last to the Core and its regiments of military elites, aristocrats, and genetically modified creature weapons, finds her loyalties divided among several suitors. There is massive, macho, and merciless Reece, her protector (and sometimes tormentor); Thess, a Core princeling and fellow prodigy, seemingly a nice guy, to whom Willow is pledged in a strategically arranged marriage; and Toby, a shape-shifting “mimic” prodigy who shares the protagonist’s background, values, and a psychic link. Oh, there are other suitors—enough to cast a Japanese anime-fantasy series written by Tolstoy—not to mention a whole insurgent army and “guardians” from another dimension looking to exploit Willow (when the Core isn’t trying to manipulate her). The captivating hero plays a dangerous game with all of them, secretly set on freeing an old friend, now a condemned prisoner. Much of the engaging story’s vibe is familiar, female-fronted, YA dystopia material—the chosen one is faced with a universe of impossible boyfriend and family problems. While progress throughout the saga is slow and intricately detailed, each character manages to have a singular voice. The action scenes, when they finally arrive, will keep readers addicted to turning the pages. Since this book is a third chapter, newcomers will be badly lost without maps.

A deep dive into recognizable SF territory that’s made compelling by rich characterizations and details.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73444-417-9

Page Count: 540

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

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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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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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