Often derivative but pleasingly nuanced, peopled with beings neither wholly good nor irredeemably evil: an impressive...

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BANEWREAKER

VOL. I, THE SUNDERING

The author of an outstanding fantasy debut trilogy (Kushiel’s Avatar, 2003, etc.) kicks off a new adventure set in a Tolkienesque world of contending gods, magic jewels, warring races, dragons, elves, trolls, and what-all.

Strife among two of the godlike Seven Shapers—proud Haomane, the eldest, and his younger brother Satoris—broke the world, so now Haomane and his five siblings reside at one end of the Sundering Ocean, Satoris and the various peoples of the world at the other. Haomane’s unremitting hostility and power have driven Satoris to Darkhaven, where he lurks underground, cursed as the Father of Lies for causing the sundering. During the struggle, the jewel Souma was shattered and Satoris stabbed in the thigh by a dagger-shaped fragment known as the Godslayer. To keep Godslayer safe, Satoris placed it in the marrow-fire deep beneath Darkhaven. Haomane longs to destroy Satoris but, likewise vulnerable to Godslayer, dares not come himself but works through intermediaries instead. To thwart a prophesy predicting his defeat and the reuniting of the world, Satoris sends his immortal general, Tanaros Blacksword, to kidnap Cerelinde of the immortal Ellylon and thus prevent her marriage to the mortal human king, Aracus Altorus. Simultaneously, Haomane’s forces, led by counselor Malthus bearing a powerful fragment of Souma, march towards Darkhaven; among them is a young innocent, the desert-dweller Dani, Bearer of the Water of Life, which, impossibly heavy for anyone but the true bearer to carry, can quench marrow-fire.

Often derivative but pleasingly nuanced, peopled with beings neither wholly good nor irredeemably evil: an impressive curtain-raiser for this projected trilogy, even if it weighs a ton and a half.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-765-30521-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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