Heavy going, but Durham has imagined its landscape and ethnography in persuasive detail. Many readers will eagerly await the...

ACACIA

BOOK ONE: THE WAR WITH THE MEIN

Something genuinely new from the author of historical novels about the black American experience (Gabriel’s Story, 2001; Walk Through Darkness, 2002) and the Second Punic War (Pride of Carthage, 2005).

Volume One of a planned trilogy, it’s set in a fictional empire, the Known World, whose political center is the fertile and temperate island realm of Acacia, ruled by King Leodan Akaran. He’s a compassionate monarch who sincerely mourns his beloved wife and dotes on his four vibrant children: stalwart Aliver, his ingenuous brother Dariel and their sisters, headstrong Corinn and stoical Mena. Yet Leodan has inherited his wealth and power from “a slaving empire…[that] traded in flesh…[and] peddled drugs to suppress the masses.” Opposition to Leodan’s ostensibly benign reign appears at the outset, as Thasren Mein, one of three brothers who effectively rule a distant (and impoverished) northern wasteland, travels in disguise to Acacia to assassinate his people’s longtime enemy. From every corner of the Known World, tribes and enclaves ally themselves with Akarans or Mein, and gradually assemble into battle positions. Meanwhile, a plan conceived long ago by Leodan and now orchestrated by his Chancellor Thaddeus Clegg (one of several characters possessed of divided loyalties) sends the royal children away, into separate adventures and ordeals: Mena among a remote island culture’s sinister priesthood; Dariel as a warrior member of Rebellious Outer Island Raiders; Corinn as the mistress of Machiavellian Mein Chieftain Hanish; and Aliver as the hero he was bred to become, challenged to defend his people in single combat. The novel’s strong echoes of Homer and Virgil, Tolkien, Norse mythology’s Twilight of the Gods and America’s compromised history as a republic built on slavery fuse into an enthralling, literate and increasingly suspenseful narrative.

Heavy going, but Durham has imagined its landscape and ethnography in persuasive detail. Many readers will eagerly await the continuation of Acacia’s story.

Pub Date: June 19, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-50606-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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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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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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