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

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Kazungul Book 1

BLOOD TIES: AWAKENING OF THE NNCESTRAL CURSE

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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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