More of a mixed bag than hitherto, but regulars will find it hard to resist.

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THE RISE OF THE AUTOMATED ARISTOCRATS

Final entry in Hodder’s steampunk/time travel series (The Return of the Discontinued Man, 2014, etc.) featuring Victorian explorer/translator Sir Richard Francis Burton and his improbable sidekick, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Series loyalists will recall the assassination of Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford, an insane time traveler from the 23rd century. This time, Burton finds himself, young and healthy, in 1864 but burdened by sharp memories of himself as a dying old man; Swinburne reports similar recollections. Before they have time to dwell on these matters, they climb aboard the rotorship Orpheus and proceed to the 23rd century, where the Beetle, a strange creature who exists simultaneously in multiple realities and, in some unfathomable way, is also Burton, explains that they must be transported into yet another alternate past where the Beetle’s complicated plot will knit up the strands of time broken by the mad Oxford. Pause for breath. Back in 1861, however, things immediately go wrong. Orpheus’ artificial intelligence inexplicably falls silent; following a crucial meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and genius Charles Babbage, Babbage vanishes, but the intelligent robots he invented proliferate. Worse, Disraeli intends to transfer the mentalities of the empire's ruling elite into immortal mechanical bodies and thereby ensure their supremacy forever. Soon, London's parks become concentration camps for dissidents, the state’s political enemies languish in slave labor camps in India, and Burton and Swinburne battle hordes of mechanical police. Though Hodder ties his time-travel rationale in knots, the plot makes no sense anyhow. Yet when, all too often, the occasionally brutal, sadistic action just plods, his dazzling inventiveness keeps things bubbling along.

More of a mixed bag than hitherto, but regulars will find it hard to resist.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63388-052-8

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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