Originally self-published online, this tale reads more as impassioned fanfiction than a fully realized, judiciously edited...

WHITE STAG

From the Permafrost series , Vol. 1

A scarred survivor must decide if she will be predator, prey, or something more.

Violently orphaned, then tortured, 17-year-old Janneke has spent a century in Permafrost as a goblin thrall. When the Erlking’s death sets off the Hunt for the white stag, Janneke accompanies her current master, Soren. Together, they must stop Lydian—Janneke’s abusive first captor and Soren’s maniacal uncle—prevent a war, decide Janneke’s humanity, and resolve their unusual relationship. Video game–like action sequences, obligatory fae political machinations, unnecessary mystical ordeals, random animal slaughter, and melodramatic brooding ensue. Suffering from chosen one syndrome—prophecies, magical birth, inexplicable uniqueness, and desirability—Janneke survives the Hunt through stubbornness, specialness, and a repeatedly mentioned but superficially discussed childhood of being raised as a male heir (she reserves the feminine form of her name, Janneka, for intimates). Russet-haired, green-eyed Janneke has dark skin and suggested Scandinavian origins, while Soren is white-haired, purple-eyed, and blue-gray skinned. Dazzling descriptions and morbid humor aside, debut author Barbieri eschews original dialogue and subtlety in favor of anachronisms, clichés, blunt moralizing, and insensitive treatment of sexual abuse.

Originally self-published online, this tale reads more as impassioned fanfiction than a fully realized, judiciously edited novel; best for existing fans. (Fantasy. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-14958-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Few chills and even less logic.

BENT HEAVENS

Can Liv put the pieces of her life back together after her father’s mental breakdown?

In rural Bloughton, Iowa, Liv takes solace in the cross country team and the idea that she will be off to college before too long. Three years ago, her father, the high school’s former English and drama teacher, vanished only to return naked and talking about alien abduction. He disappeared for good eight months later. Liv and her friend Doug check the elaborate traps her father built in the woods during those eight months every Sunday. The teacher who replaced him decides to stage the same musical that was her father’s swan song, and after getting in trouble for an outburst over her insensitivity, Liv decides to destroy the traps…but discovers that one has caught an alien. After hiding the horrifying creature in her father’s shed, they discover it has her father’s compass. In anger, Liv attacks the beast and then she and Doug torture it repeatedly as revenge for her missing father…but the alien is not what they perceive him to be, and as the truth is revealed, the horror mounts. Kraus’ (Blood Sugar, 2019, etc.) newest horror fantasy (there is no science here) might inspire more anger than horror as the protagonists respond to otherness with violence. Outrage will likely be followed by laughter at the stagy, manipulative, over-the-top conclusion. Most characters seem to be white.

Few chills and even less logic. (Horror. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-15167-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Compelling characters and worldbuilding are let down by an unengaging plot.

CASTLE OF LIES

Secrets abound and elves invade in this multiperspective fantasy.

Readers are welcomed into the corridors of Four Halls castle through four first-person, present perspectives. There’s tenacious Thelia, her eyes set on the crown; quick-witted Parsifal, whose facial disfigurement is ridiculed; Bayled, the king’s ward and heir; and Sapphire, a nonbinary elf who overtakes Four Halls along with an elite elven crew. Though these elves arrive to prevent a dangerous overflow of Magic, their ruthless methods petrify the humans and shock Sapphire, who expected the invasion to be nonviolent. As conditions worsen for the humans, Thelia, Parsifal, and Bayled work to overthrow the elves, with Sapphire showing signs of going turncoat as they develop affection for their captives. The narrative’s strength lies in its strong-willed characters and deeply developed world, but these don’t make up for a slow-moving plot, unconvincing emotional beats, and a lack of agency among protagonists. While the split perspectives initially create intrigue by letting readers in on secrets and lies, later they lead to duplicated information reveals and contribute to the story’s slow pace. Life-threatening situations and complicated romantic entanglements receive equal attention; an explicit sex scene between cousins will likely take readers by surprise, though a blooming polyamorous relationship is a refreshing addition. Protagonists are diverse in skin color, sexuality, and gender.

Compelling characters and worldbuilding are let down by an unengaging plot. (map) (Fantasy. 16-18)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5124-2997-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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