Plodding pace and an unduly Byzantine plot, even by genre standards.

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THE SINGER’S CROWN

Eunuch prince reclaims his family’s usurped throne in this fantasy debut.

Rhys, now called Kattanan, is the last of the Rinvien line. His three brothers and his mother, the Queen of Lochalyn, were murdered by his uncle Thorgir, who seized the crown. Thorgir spared Rhys but ordered him castrated to avoid future succession disputes. Raised in a monastery dedicated to Goddess worship, Kattanan becomes a talented court singer, traded from realm to realm as human collateral. Separated at the court of an emir from his companion and mentor Jordan, Kattanan is brought to Bernholt, domain of corrupt King Gerrod, who has been struck down by a wizard-instigated illness. Kattanan becomes the beloved hairdresser and personal cantor of Gerrod’s daughter, Melisande. Her suitor, a wizard apprentice named Earl Orie, seeks to ingratiate himself at the Bernholt court, but Kattanan intuits that he has ulterior motives. When Melisande goes to Gamel’s Grove to marry Orie, Kattanan follows. There he befriends Fionvar, Orie’s older brother. Expelled by Orie, Kattanan is rescued by Jordan, who proceeds to Bernholt and enlists his nemesis, the Wizard of Nine Stars, to cure King Gerrod. But Gerrod, ensnared by Orie’s machinations, condemns his son Wolfram, who had been regent during his illness. Wolfram flees and goes to the aid of Kattanan, now recognized as the true heir by the Duchess Elyn, ruler of the Rinvien court in exile. Nasty squire Montgomery, an Orie cohort, tortures Jordan, taken prisoner by the usurpers. With wizardly help to deepen his voice, Kattanan rides to battle as King Rhys, deposing Thorgir. He is betrothed to Fionvar’s lover Brianna, who is pregnant and will help perpetuate the fiction of King Rhys’s manhood. Swashbuckling ill suits Kattanan, and Melisande, now pregnant by Orie, still misses her former singer. But what if his castration were just another wizard’s device?

Plodding pace and an unduly Byzantine plot, even by genre standards.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-078253-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Eos/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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