Soggy dialogue and paper-thin descriptive passages, hobbled further by Modesitt’s annoying habit of noting little more about...

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THE SHADOW SORCERESS

A new triology extending, but not improving, Modesitt’s well-regarded Spellsong Cycle (Darksong Rising, 2000, etc.). “Something’s going to happen and you’ll be the one who’ll have to deal with it,” intones Anna, the Earth-born, singing sorceress heroine of the first three Spellsong books, to her protégée Secca. Anna then expires, fatally disturbed by changes in the Harmonies that govern this peculiar world where music is magic and a song, properly sung, can build bridges, pave roads, mine iron, or cause a cruel, feckless warlord to die of seemingly natural causes. Anna’s death sets off a storm of dissension and conflict. Within days, the wily Sea Priests, led by the Maitre of Sturinn use strange drumming magic to send a tidal wave smashing into a defenseless port city, and a shifty sorcerer named Belmar utters a spell that causes a bunch of soldiers to slit their own throats. Lord Robero of Defalk sends Secca and Secca’s apprentice Richina out to line up allies and put down insurrections. Secca, who is more accustomed to using sorcery for public-works projects, is eager use her powers against the army of rebellious Lord Mynntar—until she sings a spell designed to incinerate any soldier who isn’t loyal to Defalk, and ends up immolating some of her allies in a literal version of friendly fire. An interminable number of minor characters come and go, weighing in about the moral complexities of sorcery, as Secca readies for a climactic sea battle against the Sturinn, who are counting on Alcaren, a handsome cousin to the Maitre and himself a sorcerer of moderate skills, to beat Secca at her own game. Is it mere magic that makes them fall in love?

Soggy dialogue and paper-thin descriptive passages, hobbled further by Modesitt’s annoying habit of noting little more about his characters than their all-too-numerous smiles, frowns, and facial grimaces.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-87877-X

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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