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 charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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