The groundwork for a sci-fi epic is here, but the story falls short of its lofty aspirations.

Kazungul Book 1


An ambitious sci-fi debut pits a young man against ancient forces, heavenly armies, and his own bloodline.

Raymond is living with a secret, though he doesn’t know. His whole life, he’s been forced to abide by his parents’ odd and strict rules, most notably that he is to never participate in any physical activity. But when he heads to college in Johannesburg, South Africa, free from his parents’ reign, Raymond decides to start living by his own rules. Breaking the physical activity ban, Raymond participates in a boxing session, unlocking what has been hidden inside him since birth. Hastily returning to his room, he morphs into a monstrous, winged creature known as a Kazungul—a cursed beast that has plagued Raymond’s family for centuries. Just as suddenly as he transforms, he is no longer on Earth but transported to another realm. The new environment, an underwater city ruled by a mermaid, is the first of many vividly imagined landscapes Raymond soon encounters. Despite the cursed origins of the Kazungul, Raymond is eager to learn all he can about his newfound powers, which he soon discovers are far from ordinary, even by Kazungul standards. His quest takes him to faraway deserts, distant planets, and beyond as he seeks guidance and knowledge while transforming from college student to powerful leader. Though there is an inherent foreignness to these places, they are beautifully rendered and serve as a solid foundation for the story. While it’s clear that the worldbuilding and back stories have been meticulously imagined, the narrative’s endless ambition is also its downfall. Aliens, biblical saviors, gods, demigods, jaded lovers, secret assassin societies, and phoenixes, among many others, are all crammed together into this relatively slim first act. Consequently, each are woefully underdeveloped, resulting in muddled, inchoate storylines, none more so than Raymond’s potential lovers and nemeses, who function as obligatory stand-in pieces rather than fully realized characters.

The groundwork for a sci-fi epic is here, but the story falls short of its lofty aspirations.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4828-0440-9

Page Count: 178

Publisher: PartridgeAfrica

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2015

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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