TOP DOG

The Shaggy Dog meets J.R.R. Tolkien in this entertaining debut effort from San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carroll. The premise is wildly silly and metaphorically transparent, and has absolutely no right to succeed on any level, but Carroll—through a combination of reasonably swift pacing and gruffly funny internal monologues—pulls it off. It's like this: Bill ``Bogey'' Ingersol, a corporate-takeover maven with a killer instinct, has run afoul of the SEC; but before he can get sent to the clink, he's sucked into an alternate universe, where he discovers that he's been transformed into a very big dog. The Wall Street predator suddenly becomes a real one, snacking on whatever he can scare up in the forest, spending a fair chunk of the novel's early pages fleeing a passel of assorted otherworldly monsters. Everything looks vaguely Middle Ages, right down to the rustic peasant whom Ingersol eventually hooks up with. From a wicked wizard named Zalthazar, Ingersol learns that humans—Two Legs to the animal kingdom—were the victors in a struggle against the infinitely evil Mogwert, mainly because the Mogwert were inflexible in their battle tactics. Hence the arrival of Ingersol, claimed from the combative world of high finance to show the Mogwert how to triumph in the upcoming Final Battle with the Two Legs, who've become complacent in the ``Fair Lands.'' Ingersol, however, is completely repulsed by the dark plan and agrees to act as a double-agent for the humans, a mission that leads him to run-ins with some of the more alarming horrors of the universe. Interspersed with these high-jinks are Ingersol's recollections of his parallel life in New York, where his human form lies in a deep sleep. The Devil himself shows up eventually, and Ingersol finds himself awkwardly in charge of forces much darker than venture capitalism. A whole new chapter in the fantasy genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-441-00368-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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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