This intriguing tale mixing sci-fi and magic should appeal to fans of the series and perhaps attract additional followers.

AUSSIE KNOWHOW

A series of wars, terrorist attacks, and supposed natural disasters turns out to be created by ultra-wealthy businessmen with the aim of interplanetary takeover in this second installment of a trilogy.

Australian hero David Granger and his friends and family—along with Orack, a powerful, computer-generated hologram—face down a series of scoundrels bent on taking over Earth and possibly the planets Atlantis, Genesis, and Dudgeon. Like some grandiose game of Whac-A-Mole, no sooner do they knock down a nefarious “Mr. Big” than one or more new evil kingpins pop up. Eventually, Granger and his allies once more find themselves in a rousing interplanetary showdown with archvillains Dotoff and the Supreme Commander. But not before the protagonist and his intrepid band elicit the aid of legendary Arthurian magicians Merlin and Morgana. The latter takes Granger; his daughter, Susan; and his son, Robert, on a Christmas-like sleigh ride through time (“They seemed to pop out of a cloud mass and, with a slight bump, settled on rich soft grassy soil...Morgana told them they were at Camelot and the castle was the one King Arthur stole from her. The lake to the side was Loch Lomond”). Meanwhile, Orack continues to evolve from an emotionless machine to a feeling being. Unlike the first volume of the Granger saga, which tied together various episodes in the hero’s life, Johnson’s (Aussie Pilot, 2018) sequel has a more coherent, linear storyline and smoother prose. While the characters, except for Orack, are still somewhat flat, the author does render Granger and company more human than in the first installment, as in this interchange involving the protagonist and Robert: “David turned to face his son, smiled that broad smile...‘Ready as we ever will be, I guess,’ he replied, and they both strode with an identical swagger as they made their way towards the shuttle.” In addition, Johnson certainly has an eye for vivid details. But instead of utilizing his skill building empathetic players or gripping situations, he applies it mostly to describing what the characters eat: “He pan-fried the prawns in garlic and deep-fried two small fillets of fish with some squid in batter. He placed the salad on a large dinner plate and…added a single serving neatly to each plate.”

This intriguing tale mixing sci-fi and magic should appeal to fans of the series and perhaps attract additional followers.

Pub Date: July 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5434-0979-6

Page Count: 222

Publisher: XlibrisAU

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2018

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Our Verdict

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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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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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