Immensely appealing, intelligent, and great fun.

THE FALL OF THE KINGS

Sequel to 1987’s Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners, a tale set in an imaginary city that Kushner herself described as “not-quite-equal parts of Elizabethan London, 18th-century Paris, a dash of Regency of both, and even a little New York . . . . ” Here, it’s 60 years later, in a Renaissance Europe that’s not quite the historical Europe. Much earlier, the rocky North and fertile South were joined into one country with a King and Queen. Ivy grew out of the hands of some of the Northern King’s 15 wizards when he rode south for the wedding, leading his monstrously uncouth army. Very fanciful stuff, thinks University historian Basil St. Cloud three hundred years later, now that all the kings are long dead and the land kingless. St. Cloud admires kings but the Serpent Chancellor, Lord Arlen, appoints Lord Nicholas Galling to spy on University Northerners who favor installing a new king, drawn from royal blood, over the Council of Lords. The Council has also outlawed all talk of wizards and magic—since magic. . . doesn’t exist? If anyone could find the lost Book of the King’s Wizards, the spells in it might prove upsetting to the Council. When Basil is bedded by his new student Theron Campion, grandson of the scandalous Mad Duke Tremontaine, he finds tattooed ivy leaves entwining Theron’s body, a sign that he’s the son of ancient kings. Not that Theron doesn’t love the bossy painter Ysaud, who has painted a canvas of him modeling both throat-slit Hilary the Stag and his naked murderer—scandalous Hilary slept with deer in his bedroom instead of his wife. Then Basil buys an old trunk holding old manuscripts, including guess what, and Theron, a student of rhetoric, helps read it. Will wizardry return? Theron be king? Are the Serpent Chancellor and Galling closet sweeties?

Immensely appealing, intelligent, and great fun.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-553-38184-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Spectra/Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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

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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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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