An irreverent and utterly charming dragon tale.

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THE CONJURING OF ZOTH-AVAREX

THE SELF-PROCLAIMED GREATEST DRAGON IN THE MULTIVERSE

A fantasy novel in which a grandiose dragon declares his independence.

In this rambunctious debut, Lockhaven imagines a secret sorcery instruction institute that’s far different from Hogwarts, although it does feature avian messengers and quirky field sports. The Site, on the West Coast of the United States, was first opened in 1943 and has been dedicated ever since to harnessing magic for the good of the school, the country, and humanity—very much in that order. It has three new hires, in an echo of the main trio of the Potterverse: Harris Reed, Silvia Flores, and Patrick Nash are all conjurers, and during their orientation, they, and readers, are introduced to the Site’s spacious campus with its Conjuring Department, Prophecy Department, Realm Travel Department, and so on. They have arrived at the Site at a very auspicious moment—one that has been no less than 37 years in the making: Under the careful direction of the Conjuring Department, the Site is ready to whip up a dragon—one that they’re confident will be bound to their will and obediently help American interests. However, once the great dragon Zoth-Avarex appears, it’s clear that he has other ideas: He easily casts aside the bonds of the Site’s magic, snatches up Silvia as his princess-captive, and flies off over the landscape (“if he really concentrated, he could almost hear the screams of the people below. It was just like old times”). He takes Silvia to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle and there makes a den, where he waits for a gold tribute from all the nations of the world. Before long, the creature becomes a worldwide media star.

Lockhaven impressively controls all of this fun from the very first page, offering an endless array of allusions to canonical fantasy literature as well as quite a few snide asides, such as a sign tacked up in one of the Site’s labs: “Absolutely No Conjuring of Sparkly Vampires.” There are references to Star Wars (“I made the Kessel run in less than eleven parsecs”) and J.R.R. Tolkien and a moment when a magician offers Zoth-Avarex a dragon-rider specially trained on Pern, evoking a scornful response: “I’m not a horse, I’m a super-intelligent force of nature. I made your Einstein look like a preschooler the day I cracked out of my egg.” The exaggerated reputation of the Site (“this was the pinnacle of human civilization”) is perfectly played against its officials’ officious incompetence, and although Zoth-Avarex shares the typical charisma of folkloric dragons, he’s much funnier and more media-savvy; indeed, he’s easily the best character in the book. The human drama involving Harris and Silvia and the hapless Site administrators is conveyed with heart and empathy, but it pales in comparison to the conjured creature’s endless stream of quips and insights. The author keeps the plot hurtling along with a strong sense of pacing and a good deal of wit, and longtime fantasy readers are sure to enjoy every minute.

An irreverent and utterly charming dragon tale.

Pub Date: April 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-09-835150-2

Page Count: 306

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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