Flawed, then, but impressive and often brilliant.

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QUINTESSENCE

A serious 16th-century alternate-world history set on a flat Earth where alchemy works, from the author of the award-winning Terminal Mind (2008).

King Edward VI of England, Henry VIII’s young, sickly son, continues his father’s Protestant reforms. The king’s physic, Stephen Parris, dissects corpses (in secret, lest he be accused of witchcraft) in an effort to learn how the body works. Alchemist Christopher Sinclair, who seeks the Philosopher’s Stone, or quintessence (the three essential alchemical elements are salt, sulfur and mercury—so what’s the fourth?), believing such a substance would grant him the ability to raise the dead. Sinclair learns of Parris’ activities and blackmails him into sponsoring a voyage to the edge of the world, where the ocean plunges off into the abyss—and where he believes he will find quintessence. Adding to the pressure on Parris, the king is dying and will be succeeded by Mary Tudor, a fierce Catholic (known to history as Bloody Mary) determined to restore the primacy of Rome. As a Protestant and diabolist, Parris would not survive Mary’s reign, so he agrees to flee with Sinclair, taking along his intelligent and adaptable daughter Catherine against the wishes of his Catholic wife, Joan. Eventually, they reach an island on the brink and find that quintessence abounds: Its powers are all that Sinclair dreamed of and more. But then a Spanish galleon sails into the harbor, guided by Joan in search of Catherine; Mary is now Queen of England, and aboard the galleon is Diego de Tavera, envoy to King Philip of Spain—and a sadistic, ruthless Inquisitor. Against this intricate backdrop, the characters experiment, explore, debate ethics, philosophy and religion, and try to coexist with intelligent nonhumans. The big drawback, however, is Walton’s willingness to ascribe all the messy and inconvenient but unavoidable details of the world’s structure to the will of God, a pretext that should rightly be regarded as a cop-out. Still, the action builds to a thrilling and memorable finale.

Flawed, then, but impressive and often brilliant.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3090-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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