A dense, complex, and engrossing second installment of a genuinely promising high fantasy series.

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PROPHET OF THE TERMITE GOD

From the Antasy series , Vol. 2

An epic tale of tiny humans and warring insect empires continues in this sequel.

Carlton’s (Prophets of the Ghost Ants, 2011) saga picks up where the earlier novel left off: in a world called Dranveria, where humans exist alongside various species of insects (they’re all roughly the same size). Here, a former lower-caste, midden-slave human named Anand finds himself in the unlikely position of national savior. He led an insect army to defend his home of the Slope against the invading forces of Hulkrish and their Prophet-Commander, his own cousin Pleckoo. Against all odds, Anand was victorious, but Pleckoo isn’t dead—the threat posed by the followers of the god Hulkro remains. This latest volume employs a split narrative in order to trace the separate adventures of Anand—who must deal with the many problems facing his fledgling kingdom, from new rumblings of war to a building refugee crisis and potentially deadly palace intrigue—and Pleckoo, now a fugitive. Pleckoo seemingly has the whole of Dranveria against him—except for Hulkro, in whose service he is still a vision-driven fanatic despite dream-world visitations from other insect deities. “Hulkro does not rule the Netherworld. I do,” one god tells him. “Where is Little Termite now?” “High above, in the night sky, where He rules over all,” the faithful Pleckoo responds. “You have said He is the only god,” the rival deity answers, “yet here I am, deciding your fate for eternity.” The proceedings are suffused with the complicated dynamics of clashing religions, and this volume in the Antasy series places slightly more emphasis on Pleckoo’s story, making it an intriguing counterpoint to the previous installment. As in that earlier novel, Carlton displays in his insect high fantasy tale a completely assured—and totally infectious—imagination while employing precisely controlled narrative pacing. There’s a minor strand of purple prose running through the book that can easily be read as a winking homage to the hyperventilation of classic pulp fantasy authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs (“Knowing he was alone, Pleckoo fell to his hands and knees and wailed. He choked on his own sobbing, hoping to cough out the hundred thousand demons that warred inside him”; and Anand’s reflection on his predicament later in the story: “My wife is the pregnant prisoner of the diseased man inflicting his madness on the world”). This kind of rhetorical playfulness perfectly serves the boilerplate of the plot, and it’s expertly balanced with Carlton’s insightful realization of the internal facets of his realm. Anand, for instance, is still scornfully referred to as “Roach Boy” by some of the very people he tried to help. When he asks what he’s done to warrant such hostility, he’s told: “What haven’t you done? You’ve turned our lives downside up. We was fine in the old way, as good as anybody else in the midden.” The characters of Pleckoo and Anand dominate the volume’s two scenarios, but the tale unfolds in a way that very naturally expands to embrace not only a host of secondary characters, but also an abundance of intricate worldbuilding. Readers should keep in mind that the titles of these novels are apt: No detail of Dranveria’s vast theological mosaic is left unexplored.

A dense, complex, and engrossing second installment of a genuinely promising high fantasy series.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242977-3

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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

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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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