Rich, layered, and thoughtful worldbuilding, but the ending is frustratingly unresolved.

A TALE OF INFIDELS

In this fantasy, a diplomat, a deserter, and an exile try to find their ways in an imperiled world.

Matteo’s Lands has 97 days until, as the Day of Ascendancy prophesied in the Book of Canons, it will turn upside down. Certain harbingers have begun to occur, so—although some are skeptical—many are busy constructing shelters and attaching mooring lines from buildings to outdoor Hearthstones. The Ascendancy will, it’s said, be followed by a “time of strife” called the Internecion. Facing impending chaos, three young people nonetheless carry on. Hella Pomerain, princess of Pomeria, is a young woman being given her first official assignment as diplomatic envoy. She’s crushed to learn she’ll be sent to faraway Jawhar, an enemy nation “where death or imprisonment was the most likely outcome.” Nevertheless, she vows to do her best. Sebastian Harvellian of Pyros arrives at the Old Keep in Belidor to sit his exams and continue his religious apprenticeship. He longs to make his father, a respected Apostle, proud. In Thelonia, Darian Bronté, a military cadet, endures his training, though he doesn’t fit in well; he has some form of echolalia that forces him to mimic others. But despite their plans, each character’s life gets derailed by conflict, whether political, military, or religious, as the Day of Ascendancy approaches—then begins. Otto (Detonation, 2018) offers a varied, complex realm that comes across vividly, with many hints of deeper waters to explore. His characters are well-developed and intriguing, from Hella’s fiery resolve to Sebastian’s faith to Darian’s ethical searching. In particular, Darian’s disorder is compellingly suggestive; could he use his perfect mimicry to his advantage? The book ends on a maddening cliffhanger, although Otto assures readers that the wait for books 2 and 3 will be short and “incredibly rewarding.”

Rich, layered, and thoughtful worldbuilding, but the ending is frustratingly unresolved.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 197

Publisher: Sagis Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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