Tensions are high and it’s anybody’s guess whether Syney will live long enough to unseat the scheming queen.

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ALTERA REALM TRILOGY

Once Collins gets the plot rolling in her YA fantasy debut, it’s almost nonstop peril for her young heroine.

Even though she’s relatable, it takes a while to get to know teenage Syney Andrews, a changeling from the Altera Realm who was dropped into modern-day America as an infant. Forced to run for her life, she has to pause to catch her breath; when she stumbles back into Altera and discovers she’s meant to unseat the ruling queen, she has the courage, but not the know-how, to take her rightful place. Syney has to be guided by other characters who are just as inherently flawed as she is. Just like real-world teens and the adults around them, they try hard—except when they blow off their responsibilities. Allies in Altera manage to steer Syney closer to the queenship, but she makes a tangled, near-hopeless mess of her own romantic liaisons along the way, nearly ruining a few friendships while she’s at it. Collins’ basic ingredients—werewolves, vampires, feuding houses—will be familiar to seasoned readers, but she’s so willing to endanger her main characters that the plot never feels stale or recycled. She’s also not above an occasional wink and nod, as with Syney’s initial reaction to finding out vampires exist: “Do they sparkle?” Though Collins glosses over an exploration of Syney’s grief at the loss of her family, the story approaches a rabbit hole of depression: “She looked like nothing was wrong, all clean and refreshed, but underneath the surface she was still broken.” Magic creates some miraculous fixes, but Syney and her confidantes can never fully escape the consequences of their choices. The only speed bump to readers losing themselves in these characters is the narrative’s tendency to occasionally leave out words or substitute near-homophones, like flare for flair and depraved for deprived. Nevertheless, Collins’ writing is smooth enough to paint a vibrant picture as it draws readers into Altera and Syney’s complicated new life.

Tensions are high and it’s anybody’s guess whether Syney will live long enough to unseat the scheming queen.

Pub Date: May 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-1482590944

Page Count: 452

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2013

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Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

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IF IT BLEEDS

The master of supernatural disaster returns with four horror-laced novellas.

The protagonist of the title story, Holly Gibney, is by King’s own admission one of his most beloved characters, a “quirky walk-on” who quickly found herself at the center of some very unpleasant goings-on in End of Watch, Mr. Mercedes, and The Outsider. The insect-licious proceedings of the last are revisited, most yuckily, while some of King’s favorite conceits turn up: What happens if the dead are never really dead but instead show up generation after generation, occupying different bodies but most certainly exercising their same old mean-spirited voodoo? It won’t please TV journalists to know that the shape-shifting bad guys in that title story just happen to be on-the-ground reporters who turn up at very ugly disasters—and even cause them, albeit many decades apart. Think Jack Torrance in that photo at the end of The Shining, and you’ve got the general idea. “Only a coincidence, Holly thinks, but a chill shivers through her just the same,” King writes, “and once again she thinks of how there may be forces in this world moving people as they will, like men (and women) on a chessboard.” In the careful-what-you-wish-for department, Rat is one of those meta-referential things King enjoys: There are the usual hallucinatory doings, a destiny-altering rodent, and of course a writer protagonist who makes a deal with the devil for success that he thinks will outsmart the fates. No such luck, of course. Perhaps the most troubling story is the first, which may cause iPhone owners to rethink their purchases. King has gone a far piece from the killer clowns and vampires of old, with his monsters and monstrosities taking on far more quotidian forms—which makes them all the scarier.

Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

Pub Date: April 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3797-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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