A satisfying alternate-history work that doesn’t skimp on adventure.

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BLACK IRON

Veaux and Rickert’s (Polyamory and Jealousy, 2016, etc.) steampunk novel tells the story of a conspiracy that threatens to bring down the British monarchy.

Thaddeus Mudstone Ahmed Alexander Pinkerton wakes up in the gutter in New Old London, suffering temporary amnesia after literally falling out of the sky. The year is 1855, but in this alternative history, England is ruled by Queen Margaret the Merciful, ally of the France-based Reformed Holy Catholic Church in its struggle with the Catholic Church of Rome. Her London is filled with refugees from the war as well as clankers (11-foot-tall, mechanical iron men). Thaddeus has just leapt out of the queen’s personal zeppelin after putting an incriminating item in the queen’s cabin, though not before being spotted by Alÿs de Valois, a princess of France. When Thaddeus’ planted ring is discovered, the queen is arrested on the suspicion that she’s secretly in league with Rome; meanwhile, back on the ground, Thaddeus is nearly murdered by the mysterious man who sent him on his mission. The plot that he’s set in motion may bring down the queen and her country unless he, Alÿs, and some other pawns in the game can figure out just what’s going on. Veaux and Rickert summon their fictional alternative London with all of its slang, soot, and Victorian (or rather, Margaretian) squalor: “night had finished its long fall and was lying sprawled out over the disorganized heap of Old New London. Rows of gas lamps created uneven pools of light along the roads. Deep shadows lurked between.” The authors show a great deal of relish for the milieu they’ve created for this story, which, for example, also includes animates—undead laborers stitched together from dead-body parts: “They were frightfully expensive, and as beasts of burden they were only moderately useful, but they’d been all the rage since that doctor from Geneva had started making them a couple of years back.” The enthusiasm is infectious, and readers will quickly find themselves becoming caught up in the characters, the intrigue, and the slightly altered customs of this well-plotted mystery.

A satisfying alternate-history work that doesn’t skimp on adventure.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944934-65-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Thorntree Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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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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