An ambitious but lightweight fantasy that grapples with issues of racism and identity.

THE TRANSITIONERS

THE PURPLE BLUES

Cox’s (Native Girl Rites, 2017) brief fantasy novel tells the story of a magical young woman locked in an eternal war against the forces of hate.

In New York City in 1972, 20-something African-American student Misty is attending the Girard music school, taking part in its doctoral program. But she has a unique ability that only her mother and uncle know about: When she strums her old blue guitar, she’s able to change her outward appearance from that of a black woman to a white one. This comes in handy at a school where racism remains rampant, particularly in the classroom of intolerant Professor Krinch. At night, she has dreams in which she transforms into a magical beast to do battle with a shape-shifting demon, Schizm, the incarnation of hate. In her waking life, she begins a relationship with Justin, a white student who knows her as both Misty and as her white alter ego, “Cynthia Berns”—although he doesn’t realize that they’re the same person. As Misty’s dreams become more intense, she learns that the source of her powers is her purple blood—which is also evidence that she’s a demigod. While drawing on the help of other demigods that reveal themselves to her, she must use her powers to defeat Schizm before he can enslave the world. Cox writes in an energetic style that gives scenes a sense of lively urgency. For example, at one point, Misty dreams of taking the form of a giant wolf: “Before devouring her prey, she leaped to catch the other buck who had gotten a huge head start already….Two swift leaps and she was on his tail….She reached out with her large paw and slashed him in two.” The choice to combine elements of fantasy and with the topic of American racial dynamics in the ’70s is an intriguing one, and the overall premise does hold a lot of promise. However, the novel also relies heavily on familiar genre tropes, such as Misty’s status as “the chosen one,” and convenient occurrences that may strain readers’ credulity.

An ambitious but lightweight fantasy that grapples with issues of racism and identity.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 219

Publisher: Kwill

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2018

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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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