A speculative tale that has fun with its genre’s chapter-and-verse.

THE ALCHEMIST'S PORTAL

In Acco’s debut SF/fantasy novel, three of the Vatican’s clerical elite fight malevolent entities who covet an alchemical artifact from the 17th century.

In a not-too-distant future, the Catholic Church embraces the use of high-tech superweapons to fight evil. This comes in handy when a doorway, fashioned by Prussian alchemists in the 1600s using meteorite ore, suddenly appears. The alchemists unwisely created it in a bid to reach God and heaven directly, and it had a tendency to teleport uncontrollably, spewing deadly radiation as it did so. Space miners found it on the moon centuries later, then lost it again; now, it seems to be connected to violent, occult-related incidents around the globe. The church tasks a trio of Catholic “Magisters” to investigate: tough priest Lev Kraal, advanced android Michael (which uses technology from benevolent aliens), and a new recruit, priest Wilhemina “Will” Grand, who’s haunted by guilt. In an action-packed, episodic narrative, they face demons and shape-shifters who aim to use the doorway for their own malicious purposes. Unusually, the author waits until midway through the novel to provide the sort of backstory that many other SF writers place upfront; the narrative occurs in the aftermath of a veritable Armageddon in which billions of humans died due to climate change, wealth inequality, war, and species extinction, among other reasons. Meanwhile, money and capitalism have practically been abolished. Fans of the Star Trek mythos may note that its noble United Federation of Planets had a similar origin, and the book’s ambiance is somewhat Gene Roddenberry–like, right down to Michael’s resemblance to Lt. Cmdr. Data and some cheeky humor, especially in the colorfully infernal villains’ repartee. Compared with other faith-based genre fiction, which is often written from an Evangelical Protestant perspective, the preaching is relatively light, and there are nods to representatives of Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Although the Catholic Church, as portrayed here, seems fairly broad-minded, the tradition of priestly celibacy perseveres, so there are no sex scenes; indeed, even evil entities treat the subject of sexuality with delicacy.

A speculative tale that has fun with its genre’s chapter-and-verse.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-70697-263-1

Page Count: 197

Publisher: World Castle Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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