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One part nihilist political commentary, one part grimly modernist retelling, for readers willing to see Jesus in a...

A sneaky beggar child enters the circle of Yeshua of Gilgal in the six days surrounding the crucifixion.

Flea is a filthy, ignorant street child in the Holy City, the most bullied and ostracized member of a gang calling itself the Temple Boys. The new magician riding into the city on a donkey is just one more excuse for the rest of the Temple Boys to abuse and abandon Flea, but the magician's best friend, Jude, enlists Flea for a mission of his own. Jude wants to protect his friend and prevent the anti-Roman, anti-Temple political movement from turning into a bloodbath, but Flea only wants food, warmth and a little respect. Though he admires Yeshua's sleight of hand and cunning, Flea doesn't understand why Yesh seems sanguine about his own potential death. Readers with knowledge of the Gospels will catch the many sideways references and thinly disguised names: Yesh's brother is named Yak; Shim denies Yesh; Yesh buries old Laz alive; Jude reminisces about that time they "smuggled the booze into that boring a water jug." These readers need to be prepared to read about Jesus as a lying con man who's a master of confidence games and is willing to use children as human shields. The ideal reader of this existentialist retelling is likely substantially older than naïve-if-bitter young Flea.

One part nihilist political commentary, one part grimly modernist retelling, for readers willing to see Jesus in a distinctly unholy light . (Historical fiction. 15 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62672-036-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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From the Prison Healer series , Vol. 1

Readable but not remarkable, yet another grimdark political fantasy.

Prison life gets even more punishing in this fantasy series opener.

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan is 10 years into a life sentence at “death prison” Zalindov. She’s succeeded her late father as the titular prison healer, dosing patients with herbs and possessing extensive, modern medical knowledge of bacteria, viruses, and immune systems. Aside from cheerful innocent/MacGuffin Tipp, Kiva befriends few fellow prisoners and even fewer guards, most of whom are harshly abusive. While Naari, a new female guard, and Jaren, a handsome new prisoner, chip away at her frozen facade, Kiva volunteers to undertake an epic Trial by Ordeal on behalf of the Rebel Queen, the newest political prisoner. Under pressure to save her friends, the Rebel Queen, and herself—and losing hope of rescue or release—Kiva faces four elemental magic Trials sans innate talent. In between grueling, gruesome spectacles, Kiva also acts as an epidemiologist, tracking down an illness plaguing the prisoners. The claustrophobic setting—evoking the horrors of a Siberian gulag or Nazi concentration camp—exudes dread and brutality; levity and lightness are minimal. A predictable romance ensues, and generic fantasy clichés abound—royals and rebels, lost heirs, vague magic—hastily concluded with a trite plot twist and setup for a sequel. Most main characters read as White; there is a diversity of skin tones in this fantasy world.

Readable but not remarkable, yet another grimdark political fantasy. (map) (Fantasy. 15-adult)

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-43455-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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Only marginally intriguing.

In a remote part of Utah, in a “temple of excellence,” the best of the best are recruited to nurture their talents.

Redemption Preparatory is a cross between the Vatican and a top-secret research facility: The school is rooted in Christian ideology (but very few students are Christian), Mass is compulsory, cameras capture everything, and “maintenance” workers carry Tasers. When talented poet Emma disappears, three students, distrusting of the school administration, launch their own investigation. Brilliant chemist Neesha believes Emma has run away to avoid taking the heat for the duo’s illegal drug enterprise. Her boyfriend, an athlete called Aiden, naturally wants to find her. Evan, a chess prodigy who relies on patterns and has difficulty processing social signals, believes he knows Emma better than anyone. While the school is an insidious character on its own and the big reveal is slightly psychologically disturbing, Evan’s positioning as a tragic hero with an uncertain fate—which is connected to his stalking of Emma (even before her disappearance)—is far more unsettling. The ’90s setting provides the backdrop for tongue-in-cheek technological references but doesn’t do anything for the plot. Student testimonials and voice-to-text transcripts punctuate the three-way third-person narration that alternates among Neesha, Evan, and Aiden. Emma, Aiden, and Evan are assumed to be white; Neesha is Indian. Students are from all over the world, including Asia and the Middle East.

Only marginally intriguing. (Mystery. 15-18)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266203-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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