Flawed, then, but impressive and often brilliant.

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.

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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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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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