Despite many alluring parts, this one has to qualify as a disappointment, if only because of Bear's previous lofty standards.

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THE RED-STAINED WINGS

Second part of the fantasy trilogy (The Stone in the Skull, 2017) set in the Lotus Kingdoms, splinters of the collapsed Alchemical Empire, where by night a cauled sun gives heat but little light, while days are lit by a brilliant ribbon of stars.

Anuraja, the malevolent, despotic, and ambitious ruler of Sarathai-lae, has captured Sayeh, the princess of devastated Ansh-Sahal. Now, his armies and sorcerers besiege the old imperial seat, Sarathai-tia, ruled by Sayeh's cousin, Mrithuri. A mighty river protects her city, and the rainy season's beginning, so Mrithuri considers her situation impregnable. But what if the rains sorcerously fail? And who among her closest confidants is a traitor? Sayeh, reasoning that she can help Mrithuri by subverting Anuraja, works her wiles on her guards without revealing her concern for her young son, Drupada, who's been kidnapped by Himadra, Anuraja's nominal ally. Himadra, surprisingly, proves to be solicitous of the boy's welfare. Elsewhere, the Gage, an immensely powerful brass automaton with a human soul, introspectively pursues his nebulous mission into a poison desert beneath an alien sky and provides spectacular travelogue. There's plenty of intrigue and interplay among the characters, who have real complexity and depth (with, oddly, one exception), while the lack of action surprises even the characters themselves. It's almost as if the plot's waiting for the author to catch up. Illogically, the good wizards quickly reveal their limitations while the evil sorcerers don't seem to have any—though a yet more powerful player may still be hidden. And once again Bear illuminates the narrative through her talent for linking landscape with character. Yet despite it all, there's a persistent sense that her attention isn't fully engaged.

Despite many alluring parts, this one has to qualify as a disappointment, if only because of Bear's previous lofty standards.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8015-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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