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THE SCHOHARIE

An original and imaginative mix of macabre lore and psychological horror.

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A bridge collapse becomes complicated by an outbreak of Native American sorcery in this debut supernatural thriller.

When a wet spring in upstate New York leads to heavy flooding and the collapse of a bridge over the Schoharie Creek, soccer coach and fireman Aaron Bonner almost drives his pickup into the suddenly gaping chasm on the I-90 thruway. Even more unsettling is the apparition of a Native American warrior in buckskin, war paint, and a braid beckoning Aaron from across the gap. More frightening visions plague Aaron as he does emergency flood work: He sees the warrior, who is invisible to others, scalping the corpse of a drowned motorist and starts hearing the voices of dead people shrieking inside his head. He thinks he is going crazy, as do his girlfriend, Sara Harrigan, and her dad, Ben, a hard-bitten sheriff with a prickly attitude toward him who remembers that Aaron’s half-Iroquois father also exhibited bouts of insane violence before he was killed by police. Things escalate when the warrior manages to cut off Aaron’s toe. The talisman enables the warrior to turn Aaron into a puppet compelled to repeat any act he pantomimes, no matter how horrifying. Johnson creates a believable world of small-town people and first responders with long memories and complex relationships as a setting for eruptions of eeriness. She writes vivid action and flood scenes, filled with “the rush of untamed water, the splatter of the endless downpour, the grunts and shouts of workforce prisoners who heaved sandbags to and fro, and the whining motors of rescue boats fighting a swift current.” In her evocative prose, the novel’s magic feels both realistic and picturesque. (Gathering his powers for a catastrophic strike, the warrior “held out his arms as if presenting the sky with a large and bulky gift,” then “dropped the imaginary package…as if it had gained an obscene amount of weight.”) Aaron’s helpless subjection to a malevolent force that no one else perceives makes for a queasily terrifying read.

An original and imaginative mix of macabre lore and psychological horror.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5439-0767-4

Page Count: 254

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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NINTH HOUSE

From the Alex Stern series , Vol. 1

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

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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: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

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

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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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