This has the bones of an excellent book, but, sadly, an untenable amount of flab is covering them.

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CALIFORNIA

The end of American civilization has come and gone, and a young married couple has fled Los Angeles to live in the wilderness in Lepucki’s debut novel.

Cal and Frida, alone in the woods, provide for themselves—but once Frida becomes pregnant, finding more of civilization’s refugees becomes important, especially since their only neighbors have committed suicide. They find an encampment surrounded by spikes and are invited to be candidates for the group. They will stay with the community, making friends and learning the ropes, until the other commune members vote on whether they should stay or leave. Soon they discover there are dangers even in this relatively secure place. They notice there are no children in the group, so they hide Frida’s pregnancy. Other unsettling details emerge as the couple tries to win the commune over—Frida by baking, Cal by serving as a member of the community counsel. The color red is forbidden. Surprisingly luxurious supplies arrive—but from where? The counsel is full of secrets, and the leader forbids Cal from sharing them with Frida. One character, thought to have died in a suicide bombing before Cal and Frida struck out for the wild, is miraculously alive at the commune, after the couple spent many pages grappling with his death. This is a misstep on Lepucki's part, showing the reader that she isn’t above bending the rules, which makes it more difficult to feel real concern for Cal and Frida. They will never be in too much trouble; Lepucki won’t allow it. The chapters alternate between Cal’s point of view and Frida’s and are heavy on flashbacks that bog down an otherwise tense narrative of survival.

This has the bones of an excellent book, but, sadly, an untenable amount of flab is covering them.

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-25081-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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Very smart and very entertaining.

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THE POWER

All over the world, teenage girls develop the ability to send an electric charge from the tips of their fingers.

It might be a little jolt, as thrilling as it is frightening. It might be powerful enough to leave lightning-bolt traceries on the skin of people the girls touch. It might be deadly. And, soon, the girls learn that they can awaken this new—or dormant?—ability in older women, too. Needless to say, there are those who are alarmed by this development. There are efforts to segregate and protect boys, laws to ensure that women who possess this ability are banned from positions of authority. Girls are accused of witchcraft. Women are murdered. But, ultimately, there’s no stopping these women and girls once they have the power to kill with a touch. Framed as a historical novel written in the far future—long after rule by women has been established as normal and, indeed, natural—this is an inventive, thought-provoking work of science fiction that has already won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction in Britain. Alderman (The Liars’ Gospel, 2013, etc.) chronicles the early days of matriarchy’s rise through the experiences of four characters. Tunde is a young man studying to be a journalist who happens to capture one of the first recordings of a girl using the power; the video goes viral, and he devotes himself to capturing history in the making. After Margot’s daughter teaches her to use the power, Margot has to hide it if she wants to protect her political career. Allie takes refuge in a convent after running away from her latest foster home, and it’s here that she begins to understand how newly powerful young women might use—and transform—religious traditions. Roxy is the illegitimate daughter of a gangster; like Allie, she revels in strength after a lifetime of knowing the cost of weakness. Both the main story and the frame narrative ask interesting questions about gender, but this isn’t a dry philosophical exercise. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and even funny.

Very smart and very entertaining.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-54761-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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