Odd, thought-provoking, and charming, with an emotional gut punch: quintessential Walton.

OR WHAT YOU WILL

Through the experiences of a novelist and her character, this fantasy explores the boundaries between life and death, fantasy and reality, creator and created, and intriguingly blurs the borders between each.

The novelist in question is Sylvia Katherine Harrison, who shares some, but decidedly not all, qualities with her author. But the narrator/protagonist of the story is a nameless, protean, pansexual character who has played a role in much of her fiction. This being persuades and assists Sylvia, who is slowly dying from cancer, to craft an escape from mortality via Illyria, a fictional realm she built in previous novels and which draws upon Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Twelfth Night as well as the best aspects of Renaissance Italy. As Sylvia writes a new novel concerning two 19th-century visitors from our world who presage change for the beautiful, magical, but essentially static society of Illyria, the narrator also helps her process the difficult parts of her past. If she can come to accept the strength of her fictional world as well as her own deepest truths, sourced in her damaging relationships with an impossible-to-please mother and an abusive first husband, she and her character may be able to fully transcend worlds. Walton continues to indulge an obsession with the two real-life Renaissance philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who appeared in different forms in her Thessaly trilogy and her previous novel, Lent (2019). They seem to represent the power that mind and will could potentially have over what we perceive of as the physical universe. (They also apparently serve nearly the same function for Walton in her creative process as this book’s narrator does for Sylvia.) Despite pondering the foundations of reality itself, the book doesn’t have quite the philosophical heft of those prior works. Instead, this is a deeply personal work and a charming love letter to Florence.

Odd, thought-provoking, and charming, with an emotional gut punch: quintessential Walton.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30899-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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

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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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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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