Though he brings a tender compassion to many of his characters, Turtledove is no Tolstoy. This vast portrait of nations in...

RULERS OF THE DARKNESS

Fourth outing, with a cliffhanger that promises more, in Turtledove’s tangled fantasy epic of empires fighting a pointless war in which magic kills just as horribly as TNT. It’s too late to say that others have done the sorcery-instead-of-science gimmick better and more elegantly. In his continuing effort to show that human history, even in a drably imagined world reminiscent of late–19th-century Europe, is pluralistic at every level, Turtledove (Through the Darkness, 2001, etc.) piles on subplots involving over a hundred characters in a story that’s too complicated to achieve any momentum. Under the possibly mad King Mezentio, the violent forces of Algrave try to conquer the no-less-aggressive Kingdom of Unkerlant, with the Algravians being a bit worse because they derive the source of their magical powers from murdering the Kuusamians, Turtledove’s vague stand-ins for Jews. With many other minority peoples involved, some willingly, some not, Turtledove has bleached his setting of the customary sense of wonder that magic fantasies can offer, substituting an oppressively gritty realism that comes off half-baked. Instead of telephones, soldiers communicate by magic crystals, shoot beams of fire from magic staffs, fly dragons that drop incendiary eggs, ride behemoths over land, go under the sea clinging to submersing leviathans, and move supplies on trains that run along ley lines. Meanwhile, in an attempt to oppose Algrave’s murderous sorcery, Mages are developing magic that can alter the flow of time, adding even more complexity to a story that desperately needs a sense of direction.

Though he brings a tender compassion to many of his characters, Turtledove is no Tolstoy. This vast portrait of nations in conflict makes War and Peace a breezy read.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-765-30036-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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