A breezy, smart apocalyptic tale that makes sequels look tempting.

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THE METAL WITHIN

In the opening installment of debut novelist Gizinski’s sci-fi series, survivors in a dystopian world encounter a covert organization that targets threats to citizens.

Jack Mathews lives in what remains of the mid-21st century United States, which has been ravaged by missile strikes, riots, and civil wars. He preaches at his own church, and although gangs are prevalent in the decimated country, Jack is on relatively good terms with members of the Razors. He hopes that they aren’t the ones pushing a dangerous street drug called Diamond. Meanwhile, private eye Melissana Trellan has taken on a new client: Elaine Martinez, wife of Justin Martinez. He’s known as “The Man Who Saved the World from Extinction” because his company developed synthetic foodstuffs to counter mass starvations resulting from the Grain Blight of 2029. Elaine thinks that her husband is cheating on her, but Melissana discovers some other information that may put Justin in peril. In a concurrent storyline, Corey Martin, in his late father’s armed-and-armored Sabretooth, makes his way to the Fortress Town of Hagerstown, Maryland, with a woman named Susan Blakeslee. They’ve been fleeing Iron Mike and his Steel Jackals ever since Corey saved Susan from them; the gang’s determination to ensnare the couple soon incites the townspeople to protect their home. Enter a clandestine agency with the resources to combat such menaces, which aims to recruit skilled people by whatever means necessary. Gizinski ably establishes his characters and the harrowing world in which they live; for example, just because Melissana’s pal Josanne Sinclair has aspirations to be an investigative journalist doesn’t mean that she isn’t also trained in self-defense and firearms. Most of the initial action is reserved for Corey and Susan alone, who find themselves in exhilarating predicaments, such as a high-speed pursuit and the aforementioned Hagerstown standoff. Details about the secret organization come much later, but the author saves some space afterward for characters to train, learn new tech, and even actively go after bad guys. There’s also a few surprises, including revelations of a villain’s identity and of a character’s pre-existing link to the covert group.

A breezy, smart apocalyptic tale that makes sequels look tempting.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4808-3864-2

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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