A first-rate outing in a consistently enthralling series.

UNMASKED

From the Blood Bond Saga series , Vol. 4

The fourth entry in Hardt’s (Undaunted, 2018, etc.) erotic supernatural saga finds a vampire struggling to control the darkness within himself as he and his human lover search for missing friends and family.

Lately, Dante Gabriel has felt a dark energy pursuing him, but he’s come to realize that he is that darkness. However, the ever present ghost of the vampire’s father, Julian, convinces him that he can learn to control his inner evil. Dante believes that his greatest asset in this task is Erin Hamilton, the woman he loves and with whom he shares a blood bond—one so strong that he may not be able to live without her, and vice versa. Dante regularly consumes Erin’s blood for his sustenance and their sexual gratification. Now, he begins experimenting with BDSM in the bedroom—a riding crop is involved—as a way to embrace his dark energy without allowing it to take over. Meanwhile, some of couple’s loved ones have gone missing, including Erin’s best friend, Lucy; Dante’s pregnant sister, Emilia; and his uncle (and Julian’s twin), Brae. Dante’s cousin, River, and Erin’s brother, Jay, who are partner detectives, aid in the couple’s search, but they believe that answers may be found in the seemingly untranslatable Vampyre Texts. Dante’s paternal grandfather, Bill, knows the book’s secrets, but he’s inexplicably mum, and finding another copy is an exhausting task. It’s soon apparent that the being who’s responsible for people going missing is also leading rogue vampires who’ve targeted Erin. That leader is likely the same female vampire who, for a decade, held Dante captive for unclear reasons. Hardt’s latest installment shows some definite character and plot evolution. Over the course of the series, Dante and Erin’s sex has progressively intensified, particularly in Dante’s aggressive demands. But this book has added new suspense, as there’s a strong possibility that he could lose control and hurt Erin (without her permission). Dante also shows frightening signs of an elitist mentality; for the first time, he may see vampires as superior to humans. The mystery proceeds well; the investigating group identifies at least one of the rogue vampires, and Erin finds a prime suspect for the vampire boss. Dante’s former captor has been an enigma since the series’ beginning; this time, the author treats her readers to a big reveal, although this is most certainly not the final series installment. Hardt also centers on her characters’ human traits, eschewing vampire conventions such as immortality and lethal sunlight, but her narrative makes sure to showcase other supernatural elements. Dante, for example, continues to gain new powers, and Julian possesses an ability that could have a serious impact on the world at large. As in preceding books, the plot maintains a brisk, steady momentum courtesy of Hardt’s condensed descriptions and rapid-fire dialogue. At one point, for instance, Dante equates Erin’s “irresistible” scent with a bevy of images and senses: “Dark coffee, dark chocolate, the richest, darkest blackberry, the richest, darkest Merlot.”

A first-rate outing in a consistently enthralling series.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64263-085-5

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Waterhouse Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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