Well conceived but deeply flawed.

THE UNFINISHED LAND

In this Elizabethan historical fantasy, a young apprentice fisherman finds himself pushed north by strange currents to a ring of magic islands.

After his uncle’s fishing boat is commandeered by Queen Elizabeth to help the English fleet defend the island against King Philip's Spanish Armada, Reynard Shotwood finds himself the sole survivor on the floating ruins of his uncle’s boat. Close to death after having spent days adrift at sea, he's pulled from the water by the crew of a Spanish war ship, itself severely damaged. Lost and in desperate need of food, the crew members are powerless to do anything as a current pushes them inexplicably north toward a ring of seven islands. Once on land, the men find themselves assailed during the night by vampiric creatures that consume time from their lives. Attempting to stay alive in a land of mythical creatures, Reynard discovers his arrival heralds great change for the islands’ inhabitants. The premise—a boy fatefully finding a mysterious land and beginning a magic-filled journey of self-discovery—has an undeniable hook. Additionally, Bear’s exploration of various mythologies is a strength, and the fusion of folklore and fantasy creates a dreamlike sense of wonder in many sequences. Sadly, though, the story has no real power or sense of immediacy. Reynard—who has no idea who or what he is—is reluctantly pulled along through the story, which is lacking in clarity and focus. This narrative murkiness, coupled with an overall lack of intensity, makes for a flat reading experience. Persistent readers, however, will be rewarded with an action-packed conclusion filled with bombshell revelations.

Well conceived but deeply flawed.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 384

Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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An impressive beginning to what looks to be an ambitious series.

A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS

From the The Shadow Histories series , Vol. 1

An alternate history in the style of Naomi Novik and Susanna Clarke explores the French and Haitian revolutions with a magical twist.

This series opener has three plotlines. One follows Fina, a young enslaved woman who eventually joins with Toussaint Louverture and plays a pivotal role in the revolution against slavery and French rule in Saint-Domingue; the second follows Camille Desmoulins and Maximilien Robespierre as they stir up the bloody Reign of Terror; and the third follows friends William Pitt and William Wilberforce as they rise in the ranks of the British Parliament. Parry is working with historical events and (mostly) real characters here, but this is a world where some people are born with magical abilities. Some can control the weather, some can manipulate metal, some can even control others through “mesmerism.” Some magicians have abilities that are wholly outlawed, like necromancy, and “vampires”—here meaning human magicians who can ingest blood to give themselves eternal life—have been wiped out altogether (supposedly). But who is allowed to use their magic? Only White aristocrats, of course, and with the aid of magic, White slave owners literally control slaves’ every movement, trapping them inside their minds. But enslaved people, like Fina, are finding ways to break free and fight back, and in Europe, politicians like Pitt and Wilberforce are working to abolish the slave trade and give people of all classes the right to use their gifts. Desmoulins and Robespierre start out fighting for freedom, but as the French Revolution descends into pure violence, it becomes clear that someone is manipulating Robespierre to cause as much death as possible. The story leans too heavily on dialogue, which, unfortunately, is not Parry’s strongest suit. Her real talent lies in immersive worldbuilding and meticulous plotting, and she does an expert job of setting the scene for the rest of the series while simultaneously constructing a story that’s engaging in its own right.

An impressive beginning to what looks to be an ambitious series.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-45908-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Redhook/Orbit

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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