Richly described, if uneven, tales with some memorable characters.

THE DEATH OF JINX JENKINS

From the Conduits series , Vol. 2

This second installment of a series offers more interconnected short stories about madcap outsiders who live in the fictional Green Valley.

In The Ballad of Jinx Jenkins (2018), Sommers introduced an enigmatic vagrant whom the people of Green Valley had proclaimed an omen of bad luck. In the opening of this sequel, Jinx stands with a noose around his neck, facing death. Similarly, Green Valley is in the death grip of the dreaded BigCorp, an avaricious private company intent on gobbling up land and pushing Sniff, a highly addictive drug, to locals. In the tale “The Life of Jinx Jenkins,” it is revealed that Jinx once worked for BigCorp, and his downfall was initiated by its future CEO, Jason Big, who claims credit for the protagonist’s SkyTram designs. Other stories tell tales of the people of Green Valley—from its disgruntled blue-collar workers, such as Grackle and Crag who toil in a sweet factory, to its wannabee superheroes, including “The Errant Knight,” an offbeat Don Quixote, and “The Starling,” a female hacker intent on implanting a virus in the BigCorp servers. The pervading theme in this collection is the corrosive nature of capitalist enterprise. Sommers poignantly describes the fallout experienced as a result of BigCorp’s industrial ventures: “The problem was the mess the smog left behind, staining every tree, building, and car in a gray-green tint. A thick, sticky film seeped into one’s consciousness, their will, their sense of being.” In Jinx, the author astutely creates a complex character whose deterioration mirrors that of the valley. Imagery of Jinx decaying on the streets is graphic and impactful: “The grape-sized infection on his knuckle throbbed so hard it split itself open.” Sommers’ introduction of various superheroes is less successful. The Errant Knight’s foppishly archaic diction injects some levity: “I shall have the most immaculate cut of meat you have…adorned with your freshest comestibles.” But the author gets caught up in recounting each superhero’s backstory, which, along with the group’s predictable crime-fighting capers, becomes tediously repetitive. Sommers also sometimes uses racial slurs needlessly: “Wops and Spooks and Spics.” This volume displays many of the markings of a talented writer, although there are some off-putting elements.

Richly described, if uneven, tales with some memorable characters.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948309-92-9

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Transmundane Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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A deceptively quiet beginning rockets to a thrilling finish, preparing us for the next volume’s undoubtedly explosive finale.

NONA THE NINTH

The third installment of a necromantic science-fantasy series continues working at puzzles of identity and the meaning of loyalty.

Previously (Gideon the Ninth, 2019; Harrow the Ninth, 2020), sullen but brilliant necromancer Harrowhark consumed the soul of Gideon, her foulmouthed cavalier, to become a Lyctor, a semi-immortal officer in the Emperor Undying’s court. In a desperate attempt to preserve Gideon’s identity, Harrow deliberately erased the other woman from her memories, leaving herself confused to the point of delusion, unable to access her full powers, and vulnerable to enemies both within and without the Emperor’s court. This novel introduces Nona, a sweet but extraordinarily naïve young woman who appears to be in Harrowhark’s body but with Gideon’s golden eyes, lacking both necromantic abilities and any memories prior to six months ago. Nona’s been happy despite her precarious living situation in a war-torn city threatened by the necromantic Houses and their foe, the Blood of Eden. Unfortunately, what fragile peace she has cannot last, and everything depends on recovering Nona’s memories and returning to Harrowhark’s home in the Ninth House, there to finally release the deadly threat lurking in the Locked Tomb. But who is Nona, really: Harrowhark, Gideon, a blend of both young women…or someone else entirely? (The reader will figure it out long before the characters do.) Meanwhile, the Emperor and Harrowhark meet in dreams, where he recounts events of 10,000 years ago, when, as a newly fledged necromancer, his conflict with the corrupt trillionaires who planned to escape the dying Earth and leave the remaining billions to perish led to nuclear apocalypse. It’s pretty gutsy of Muir to write two books in a row about amnesiac characters, particularly when it may very well be the same character experiencing a different form of amnesia in each. This work initially reads like a strange interlude from the series, devoted to Nona’s odd but essentially quotidian routine in the midst of war, riot, and general chaos. But the story gradually gathers speed, and it’s all in service to a deeper plot. It is unfortunate that the demands of that plot mean we’ve gotten a considerably smaller dose of Gideon’s defiantly crude, riotously flouncy behavior in the two books subsequent to the one which bears her name.

A deceptively quiet beginning rockets to a thrilling finish, preparing us for the next volume’s undoubtedly explosive finale.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-25-085411-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tordotcom

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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