THE HAMMER AND THE CROSS

Intriguing alternate-world yarn set in England during the turbulent ninth century, from the veteran author of the Stainless Steel Rat series, etc. King Ella, having deposed Osbert, now rules Northumbria—but his rule is swiftly challenged by invading Vikings, while the Christian Church absorbs all wealth and destroys any who dares oppose it. King Edmund of East Anglia is soon defeated and killed by Vikings led by the avenging sons of Ragnar (he was a mighty Viking jarl tortured to death by Ella), who have sworn to conquer all England. Fleeing from the battle is Shef, a young, despised smith, bearing a blade he has forged himself, and upon which Viking swords break. Seeing no future with the broken East Anglians, Shef joins the Viking encampment, where he discovers practitioners of the Way—a civilized version of the old Norse religion eager for new ideas and offering freedom of worship. Shef sides with the mighty warrior Brand, whose allies of the Way intend to dispute the leadership of the Vikings with the Ragnarssons. An inventive genius, Shef rediscovers ancient Roman war-machines and develops some new ones of his own. To supplement the Viking battle-fury, he invents new tactics based on stealth, misdirection, and cunning, and uses untrained but keen and biddable Saxons to man his machines. Finally, the Church appeals to Rome for help, and stirs up the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex to battle Shef. Shef maneuvers the Mercians, however, into fighting the Ragnarssons, while Alfred of Wessex sides with Shef. But then Rome sends a great force of Franks across the Channel to expunge Shef's hybrid armies and whip Alfred into line. Fascinating sinewy, brutal, and fine—and never mind the sometimes wobbly plot and rather thin characters: few historicals are as powerfully evocative of time and place as Harrison's tremendous saga.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-85439-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

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

Did you like this book?

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

more