It’s a bonus that the hero of the piece is a young girl, which ought to serve as inspiration for more than a few readers....

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Us 99 percenters will live outside the gates come the future, and it won’t be pretty—especially once the nukes start popping.

Baggott (Girl Talk, 2001, etc.), author of fantasies and light comedies alike, takes a somber turn with her latest, which opens with an exceedingly ugly period “after the Detonations,” a time when some people sicken and die from merely drinking the water and others’ faces simply melt away, where “death is sometimes measured” in the rasping coughs of the survivors who have breathed the nuclear winter. Tucked inside the safety of the Dome, where a privileged few are sheltered, young Partridge is safe. Impudently, though, he steals out into that world to find his mother, or at least find out why she refused to leave the city and take cover with her family. Out there, 16-year-old Pressia is trying to keep out of the clutches of the ugly fascist order that has come into power in a time of emergency. It’s a nasty bunch, given to playing games such as Death Spree, “used...to rid society of the weak,” as one of the impromptu band of resisters formed by Pressia and Partridge says, adding, “It’s really the only kind of sport around here, if you can call it a sport.” That band roams the countryside, gathering knowledge and skills, dodging the many, many baddies and bad circumstances that threaten to do them in, making a fine hero quest among the ruins wrought by both bombs and “the Return to Civility and its legislation.” Read between the lines, and the story acquires timely dimensions, though you need not do so to have good fun with the book. As fantasy novels tend to do, Baggott’s tome labors under heavy influences—not just Tolkien, the lord of the genre, but also Rowling, comparisons with whom are inevitable. William Golding’s and George Orwell's and even H.G. Wells’ spirits hove into view from time to time, too. Yet Baggott is no mimic, and she successfully imagines and populates a whole world, which is the most rigorous test of a fantasy’s success.

It’s a bonus that the hero of the piece is a young girl, which ought to serve as inspiration for more than a few readers. Whether Baggott’s imagined world is one that you’d want to live in is another matter entirely, of course. Damned Detonations!

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4555-0306-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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