An intense yet engaging urban fantasy jaunt.

BITTER BITE

Retired paranormal underworld assassin Gin Blanco can handle almost any physical threat, but when a figure from her past returns to charm her best friend and foster brother into a close relationship, she's convinced the woman is up to no good.

Gin is queen of the underworld in the Southern criminal stronghold of Ashland, though she doesn’t want to be. She’s spent the last few years creating a tight-knit quasi-family from a motley crew of friends and just wants to run her barbecue joint in peace. Unfortunately, she’s a prime target for a huge line of villains who want to take her out of the picture. Recently, she’s discovered that Fletcher, her mentor and father of her best friend, Finn, left her some post-mortem clues as to a shadowy figure from their past who everyone believed was dead but isn’t. Should that woman, Deirdre—Fletcher's wife and Finn's mother—ever come back to Ashland, she’ll be up to no good. By the time Gin gathers all the pieces and proof together, Deirdre has already reconnected with Finn, and he's resentful of Gin’s attempts to protect him and angry at her refusal to believe Deirdre’s intentions are good. So she plays a precarious game of trying to be supportive of Finn’s genuine desire to reconnect with a woman she believes betrayed him in the past while also quietly probing what Deirdre’s true motives are so that she can help Finn when she betrays him again. The 14th title in the Elemental Assassin series is a fast, furious, and entertaining romp in an intriguing though violent paranormal world, and Estep does an admirable job of moving the story forward, expressing Gin’s obvious discomfort at the complicated emotions she and her friends are navigating, all while balancing the psychological and physical threats Deirdre brings to Ashland. Occasionally, though, scenes and plot elements seem to be inserted more for shock value rather than growing authentically out of the characters or story.

An intense yet engaging urban fantasy jaunt.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1127-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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