A conceptually promising but unevenly executed fantasy.

SOULFIRE

THE FORGOTTEN AGE TRILOGY

In this debut fantasy novel, an amnesiac questions his dreams in which he’s a young medieval warrior.

In a psychiatric ward, a man with no memory starts having dreams about wizards, magic and wild beasts. In the dreams, he’s a man named Zack who lives in the Silver City, Teuran, on a planet that orbits two suns. His therapist, Dr. Peters, suggests that he keep a dream journal to bring focus and continuity to the fantastic adventures. In the dream-story, Zack’s father, Zeratok, and best friend, Kera, soon appear, as does Miku, a wizard from the land of Menak, who helps Zack embrace his destiny as the wielder of Stryker, a mystical sword. Meanwhile, the evil mage Xan’dros steals Stryker’s companion sword, Verilous, and uses it to destroy Teuran. A legendary hero named Seisoa arrives to help, and when the smoke clears, Zack and Miku head to Menak to join the Rikin Alliance of mages. In Menak, an instructor named Stein begins teaching Zack how to manipulate Soulfire, the force that permeates all life. Back in the psych ward, Dr. Peters gravely reads the amnesiac’s journal and insists that the patient finish his complex tale. Hastings delivers this hugely imaginative story and its world with clarity and speed. His prose is often evocative, particularly when describing weaponry: “Taking one last look at the naked blade, with its gentle glow of infinite, hidden power, I sheathed it.” He also has a poetic take on magic: “Soulfire is the connection of our souls, because our souls and even matter itself are born from it.” Much of the rest of the prose, however, is hobbled by wordiness, and readers may find some sentences barely comprehensible (“I could not make myself want to forget [her], yet the feeling seemed to not stop forcing this desire on me either”). Overall, the book’s structure, with each chapter corresponding to days recorded in the dream journal, is intriguing; however, most of the tale’s conflict happens early, leaving the second half feeling a bit too lightweight.

A conceptually promising but unevenly executed fantasy.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1491801192

Page Count: 228

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2014

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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