Intelligent and intriguingly complicated despite its flaws.

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UNCONQUERED WARRIOR

Representing her all-female clan, a young woman negotiates political alliances and forges a connection with a foreign king in this fantasy series starter.

Long ago, 34 women and children escaped slavery, warfare, and oppression by journeying deep into a forest, led by 15-year-old Rowan. The woods are reputedly haunted, so no one followed them, and over time, they developed a thriving warrior society called the Womara, led only by women. (Children are born from circumscribed partnerships; boys live with the clan until puberty, then leave, although they may return later.) Rowan’s great-great-granddaughter Seanna, a scout for the Womara, is exploring a mountain range to the north, where she finds a hidden pass and, not far beyond, a murdered party of men. There’s one survivor, a young man her age named James whose father—the king of a northern seaport city—is among the dead. She sets James’ broken leg, and they learn more about each other; soon he must return to his kingdom, but he asks Seanna to meet him during the next summer solstice to move his father’s body for proper burial. In turn, Seanna asks him not to reveal the pass’s location to anyone. After petitioning recently allied regional clans to include Womara among their ranks, Seanna keeps her promise to James and visits his city, which he now rules as king. Her presence provokes a reaction from James’ enemies, but Seanna’s fighting abilities are up to the challenge, and she and James become political and romantic allies. In her debut, Nicely employs a consistent elevated high-fantasy tone, which is often well-done. However, some of the dialogue comes off as stilted, as when James shows Seanna his city: “The outlying structures were built for the accommodation of commerce and ships…reinforcing the defensive strengths of the lower portion of the port.” The overuse of dialogue tags, especially the cheesy “shared,” also becomes intrusive at times. However, the book does offer well-thought-out political scenarios that have plenty of room to develop in later installments as well as rousing moments that display the women’s fortitude. As a result, readers will likely want to see what happens next.

Intelligent and intriguingly complicated despite its flaws.

Pub Date: July 11, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 267

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

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

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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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