A fresh and intriguing fantasy escapade.

WHEN DARKNESS DESCENDS

From the The Relevation Trilogy series , Vol. 1

In Lücke’s debut fantasy novel, a guilt-ridden young protagonist hunts for his grandmother’s murderer—and becomes enmeshed in a magical world in the midst of a rebellion.

Jean Anderson is murdered by a mysterious stranger wearing chain mail who then disappears. Her grandson, Tom Anderson, witnessed her death as a child; for the next 11 years, he ponders strange, written clues in a book she left him, learning the magical “Bookish” language to help decipher them. Then, Tom sees someone who looks like his grandmother “six times counting today. Her or her ghost. Always from a distance.” When another strange old woman gives him magical artifacts, “the eyes of lost souls,” he leaves the reality he knows and enters a realm called Enthilen, where he’s saved by Grin, a creature called a “stone-grell,” who becomes his fast friend. As Tom searches for his grandmother, whom he believes is still alive, he gets involved with the world’s Dobunni rebels, who seek freedom from the oppressive Erstürmen rulers. He’s soon pursued by Eroberung, a “tainted grell” working for exiled ruler Malphas, who’s scheming for power over Enthilen via complicated machinations behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Tom and Grin ride to the port city of Laodicea to confront Jean’s killer. Lücke effectively ends the novel on a sequel-ready cliffhanger as Grin aims to rescue Tom but finds himself outmaneuvered. Over the course of this book, the author introduces an array of memorable characters; indeed, there are so many different players that readers may find it difficult to keep track of them all. This has the effect of making the narrative feel overstuffed at times. The prose style is occasionally stilted, as well: “maybe he found greater joy in the willing acquiescence of affection than non-consensual conquest.” That said, many fantasy aficionados will still find themselves engrossed in the story from beginning to end.

A fresh and intriguing fantasy escapade.

Pub Date: July 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-648-82070-3

Page Count: 440

Publisher: With Distinction Consultants

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2020

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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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