A head-scratcher but an ambitious pleasure. When puzzled, press on: Pears’ yarn is worth the effort.

ARCADIA

Arcadia: a kind of heaven on Earth. Arcade: a place where games are played. Somewhere between the two lies this odd confection by the restless, genre-hopping Pears (Stone’s Fall, 2009, etc.).

It’s the artist’s pleasure to create. But what of the philosopher’s? As Pears’ latest opens, a younger Inkling—a member of the learned society to which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien belonged, that is—is deep in a project with countless implications. “I want to construct a society that works,” says Henry Lytten. “With beliefs, laws, superstitions, customs. With an economy and politics. An entire sociology of the fantastic.” Alas, the 1960s will seem a golden age when that sociology takes shape. One of many possible futures, the world of the 23rd century, would do a robber baron proud. Bad corporatista Zoffany Oldmanter is determined to corner the market on everything; says our shadowy narrator, determined to thwart a hostile takeover, his priorities under the circumstances are to preserve his property and “prevent the entire universe being reshaped in the image of a bunch of thugs and reduced to ruin.” Good luck, though if the future baddies seem to have a head start on time travel, Lytten has a lock on the fantastic, to say nothing of a pergola portal into a medieval-tinged time in which 11-year-old Jay, having determined that Lytten’s assistant, Rosie, is not a fairy, blossoms into manhood after staring “a spirit in the eye without flinching” and otherwise proving that wispy bookworms are not without inner resources. Within those three broad swaths of time lie many alternate futures, and Pears darts from one to the other to the point that the reader who isn’t confused isn’t quite getting what he’s up to. Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of metacommentary on the art of storytelling, science fiction (ahem: “We say speculative fiction”), the destruction wrought by greed, and other weighty matters.

A head-scratcher but an ambitious pleasure. When puzzled, press on: Pears’ yarn is worth the effort.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94682-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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

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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

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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