Colorful characters animate this magical tale with an environmental message.

ONCE IN A PINK MOON

A teenage girl, along with frog royalty, fights to restore order by reuniting the human and frog worlds in this debut fantasy and prospective-trilogy launch.

Nora Peters’ life in a tiny Pacific Northwest town has certainly not been easy. The almost-18-year-old recently lost her father in an apparent shooting accident that she thinks was murder. Now she has only her grandmother; Nora’s mom died when Nora was 10. The teen’s enameled frog pin, which once belonged to her mother, pushes her life in unexpected directions. Over in the frog world, Queen Ranya prepares for the annual Ceremony of Renewal. It’s meant to affirm cooperation between “the natural world” and the largetoe, or human, world. The ceremony, however, hasn’t been authentic in years. The ritual requires the Golden Pearl of the Forest, which someone has stolen. When word gets around that a femtoe—Nora—has the Pearl, frogs and others, including the Elementos (the elements’ spiritual essences), track her down. Some would just as soon kill Nora to recover the cherished object. But Prince “Azzie” Azzumundo has a much more peaceful solution: invite Nora to the ceremony as the largetoe representative. This throws the natural world into bedlam as nefarious types gunning for Nora, like a power-hungry frog lord, face off against the likes of Azzie’s valiant cousin Princess Linka, who, in protecting the Pearl, also protects Nora. Unfortunately, time is running out. The Pink Moon, another prerequisite for the ceremony, rises in mere days.

Brown’s epic opening installment pits Nora against many villains. Ever hostile largetoe Carl Kincade, for one, claims the girl’s father signed away the family’s property and tree farm—supposedly on the day he died. This only heightens Nora’s later troubles; she isn’t always sure who or what is coming after her. The cast comprises various frog species, like poison, zombie, and tree frogs. Although they occasionally do humanlike things (e.g., speak or brandish weapons), they’re still frogs. They’re much smaller than largetoes and hop from place to place. Irresistible hero Nora not only saves one of them, but, like her late father, she’s an environmentalist, which aligns her with the amphibians who believe her kind is hurting the planet. Nora’s friends form a diverse bunch, from Kameela Bashir, daughter of Somalian refugees, to Minh Phan, whose family hails from Vietnam. An Indigenous friend is described as belonging to a “local tribe,” but no additional information is given. Sadly, none of these teens appear often enough to develop individual personalities. Seth is the exception; he’s a complicated romantic interest, and Nora struggles to remember that he’s not like his abhorrent father, Carl. The storyline features welcome mysteries and subplots regarding, for example, the deaths of Nora’s parents and Queen Ranya’s ascendance to the throne. Brown writes well, portraying an area of clear-cutting as “a field of battle” with “arm-like limbs, slain body-like trunks, stumps, tangled roots.” She’s also a skilled artist, adorning some pages with sublime abstract collages. Readers hoping for answers won’t be disappointed, though there’s a hint of where the planned sequel is headed.

Colorful characters animate this magical tale with an environmental message.

Pub Date: March 20, 2022

ISBN: 979-8985691207

Page Count: 550

Publisher: Sequoia Grove Books

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2022

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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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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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