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

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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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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