A mesmerizing odyssey through the beauty, suffering, and rage that flow from the irrepressible desire to live.

READ REVIEW

PRINCESS BARI

Fleeing famine and the misfortune of her family, a young woman embarks on a perilous quest to survive in South Korean novelist Hwang’s (Familiar Things, 2018, etc.) latest.

The youngest in a family of seven daughters in 1980s North Korea, Bari’s arrival into the world brings great disappointment. Named after an old Korean myth—wherein an abandoned princess searches the globe for an elixir that will bring peace to the dead—Bari is abandoned at birth but later found and brought home by her family’s dog. To the delight of Bari's grandmother, the girl has inherited their ancestors’ gift of sight, an ability she surreptitiously helps Bari nurture. When famine sweeps North Korea in the 1990s, news arrives that Bari’s uncle has defected to the south, bringing with it harrowing realities that infect and dismantle their home. The family fractures, and Bari, her grandmother, sister Hyun, and dog, Chilsung (with whom Bari speaks telepathically), are smuggled across the border to China. Alas, no sooner do they find safety than Hyun, Grandmother, and Chilsung die within months of each other. Despondent and alone, 13-year-old Bari ends up in Yanji, working as an apprentice at a foot massage parlor. It’s there that she discovers her unique ability to map strangers’ lives through touching them. After an unpaid debt upends the business, Bari lands in the bottom of a cramped cargo ship on its way to England. In the ship’s darkness, she dissociates, slipping into “layers of the otherworld,” each sensation “like soft fabric tearing each time I shed my body.” This transient place that Hwang expertly builds conjures the disorientation brought by tragedy. In its unnerving darkness we wonder, as Bari falls further away from her body, if she might never make it back to the surface. In London, Bari’s consciousness elasticizes, making room for her permeable worlds to coexist. As her body takes root in a new place, Bari finds love and even happiness, and eventually finds work as a healer, helping others mine their sorrows. Still, with growth comes deep pain, and Hwang uses Bari’s isolation and quiet agony to depict the psychic trauma that settles into the lives of those who are displaced.

A mesmerizing odyssey through the beauty, suffering, and rage that flow from the irrepressible desire to live.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947534-54-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribe

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Entertaining, though not in the league of J.K. Rowling—or even Anne Rice. But please, people: no more vamps and wizards, OK?

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES

From the All Souls Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Harry Potter meets Lestat de Lioncourt. Throw in a time machine, and you’ve got just about everything you need for a full-kit fantasy.

The protagonist is a witch. Her beau is a vampire. If you accept the argument that we’ve seen entirely too many of both kinds of characters in contemporary fiction, then you’re not alone. Yet, though Harkness seems to be arriving very late to a party that one hopes will soon break up, her debut novel has its merits; she writes well, for one thing, and, as a historian at the University of Southern California, she has a scholarly bent that plays out effectively here. Indeed, her tale opens in a library—and not just any library, but the Bodleian at Oxford, pride of England and the world. Diana Bishop is both tenured scholar and witch, and when her book-fetcher hauls up a medieval treatise on alchemy with “a faint, iridescent shimmer that seemed to be escaping from between the pages,” she knows what to do with it. Unfortunately, the library is crammed with other witches, some of malevolent intent, and Diana soon finds that books can be dangerous propositions. She’s a bit of a geek, and not shy of bragging, either, as when she trumpets the fact that she has “a prodigious, photographic memory” and could read and write before any of the other children of the coven could. Yet she blossoms, as befits a bodice-ripper no matter how learned, once neckbiter and renowned geneticist Matthew Clairmont enters the scene. He’s a smoothy, that one, “used to being the only active participant in a conversation,” smart and goal-oriented, and a valuable ally in the great mantomachy that follows—and besides, he’s a pretty good kisser, too. “It’s a vampire thing,” he modestly avers.

Entertaining, though not in the league of J.K. Rowling—or even Anne Rice. But please, people: no more vamps and wizards, OK?

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02241-0

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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