Well-dressed, sure, but underneath, it’s the same old, same old.

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HALF A KING

From the Shattered Sea series , Vol. 1

A new fantasy series kicks off with a coming-of-age yarn, from the popular author of Red Country (2012, etc.).

Among the royalty of Gettland, only strong, fearless, cold-eyed warriors have value. So Prince Yarvi, born with a withered hand, had only one option: to train as a minister (counselor). After years studying under Mother Gundring—luckily, he’s a more-than-capable apprentice—Yarvi is ready to take the ministry’s test when news arrives that his father and elder brother have been treacherously murdered by neighboring rival King Grom-gil-Gorm. While Yarvi’s uncle Odem offers sad encouragement, his mother, Laithlin, master of the treasury and expert business negotiator, remains her usual supercilious self. With no alternative, Yarvi must take the Black Chair and swear an oath to avenge his father’s death. So, donning unfamiliar armor and carrying weapons he can barely lift, he leads a raid against Grom-gil-Gorm—only to be betrayed by those around him. Rather than accept death meekly, he leaps into the Shattered Sea. He survives, only to be captured and sold as a galley slave. Again, he must endure cruelty, enormous hardship and tests of his mettle. Somehow he must use his wits and knowledge to escape enslavement, avenge his father and regain the throne he never expected or wanted. There will be, of course, surprises along the way. To fantasy regulars, this backdrop will sound familiar, with the few embellishments (some elf-ruins and artifacts, an ancient war of the gods) largely irrelevant. The story is well-handled, the characters have personalities, and the plot moves briskly and plausibly, but nothing stands out or grabs the attention; it's somewhat reminiscent of Dave Duncan but without the originality and swagger.

Well-dressed, sure, but underneath, it’s the same old, same old.

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8041-7832-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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