A worthy contribution to the earthbound fantasy genre.



The awakening of a reluctant but resilient fantasy heroine.

Gemma Pointe is a college student with more than the usual cause for young adult turmoil: no parents, inaccessible memories, a peculiar birthmark and recurring dreams that are soothing by day, terrifying at night. All converge in her true identity, which she learns only after a menacing green-eyed stranger named Malakai recognizes and pursues her. Like him, Gemma is a supernatural, a member of a race known as the Essen, which has individualized special powers, potent and relentless enemies, and a mandate for secrecy among outsiders. She’s in the process of activating her abilities and marked for a pivotal role in her race’s destiny. She’s also attached to Jonny, to the boy next door, whose devotion provides ballast, torment and complications as she explores, fights and faces her fate. Shuttling between her previous reality and the world of the Essen, she unearths game-changing truths about herself, her parents and the history of the Essen. Seymour has created a well-described, living, breathing human environment that grounds and carries over into her handling of the fantasy realm. Human and Essen dialogues flow with ease, aside from some stiltedness that sometimes comes with laying the groundwork for such a detailed world: “Why are you so obsessed with my birthmark?” Gemma asks. “Malakai’s eyes narrowed. ‘Because it is not a birthmark, despite your continued insistence that it is. We all have them, always on the inside of the right arm. But yours is an anomaly. The anomaly. The symbol I’ve been trying to find my whole life.’ ” Gemma may be supernatural, but she has a banged-up humanity that renders her appealing and believable. Early chapters, however, lag with Gemma’s repeatedly recapping her encounters with Malakai. The repetition may help readers with the complex plot and numerous characters, but it proves distracting when the action is so limited. This cavil disappears as the plot’s intricacies accelerate; by midbook, both the pace and ingenuity of the plot propel readers to a climax that delivers satisfaction and surprises. The dénouement neatly lays the ground for further installments.

A worthy contribution to the earthbound fantasy genre.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492747550

Page Count: 494

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2014

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.


From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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...


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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