A potentially compelling historical fantasy that sadly squanders its sense of place.

NOVEMBER IN SALEM

THE BARGAIN OF WITCHES

From the November Series series , Vol. 2

Russell’s (Death of an H.O.E., 2013, etc.) YA fantasy novel, the first in a planned series, sends three middle schoolers on a quest through time to prevent a dark bargain that’s been centuries in the making.

When her mother and stepfather leave the country, seventh-grader November Atwood is sent to Danvers, Massachusetts, to live with her late father’s sisters and her 12-year-old twin cousins, Jeffrey and Stephen Atwood; the latter is nicknamed “Hawk” after the scientist Stephen Hawking, with whom he shares both a love of quantum physics and the use of a wheelchair. Near the abandoned State Asylum, the three tweens dig up an old wooden box; it contains a cryptic document, dated “In the second year of the reign of our Sovereign King William III,” or 1700. It includes the mysterious instruction to “Go beneath the stones of Hathorne / On The Eve of Hollandtide.” As they puzzle over what this statement could mean, they’re startled by the sudden appearance of November’s supposedly imaginary friend, Dynnis, who explains that the three Atwood children are part of a line of magic users destined to break the Bargain, a more than 300-year-old blood oath that will otherwise doom their town. But can they overcome the ancient evil of the demon called Astaroth, and save their family’s past and future? Russell’s exciting premise promises to connect the well-known story of the Salem witches with the history of the real-life Danvers State Hospital. Unfortunately, the details of these local legends are soon replaced by a standard tale of good vs. evil, and the use of Celtic lore seems irrelevant to the setting. This aspect is particularly disappointing because Russell’s writing is often vivid, incorporating not just visuals but sound and even scent: “it stunk of mildew, rotted plaster, and wood, but there was something more. This smell was almost sweet—like stale gingerbread.” It’s worth noting, though, that November’s narration is frequently ableist until late in the novel: “Up until now I’d done a pretty good job avoiding anyone in a wheelchair. I didn’t even make eye contact with them in public places.”

A potentially compelling historical fantasy that sadly squanders its sense of place.

Pub Date: May 26, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4401-1900-2

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Tiny Cottage Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2017

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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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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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