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BENEATH THE VEIL

This intriguing tale of mythological beings introduces what promises to be an exhilarating saga.

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A comatose 20-something finds himself in a purgatory-esque realm in this dark urban fantasy debut.

A bridge collapse drops David Dolan and numerous other upstate New York drivers into the ice-cold river below. David winds up in a coma at a local hospital. Though he’s very much alive, he awakens in a world seemingly between life and death. A ferryman takes him to Jacob, a kindhearted angel, who guides him to an unknown destination. According to Jacob, David is “important,” but the angel otherwise remains cryptic. This realm teems with lost souls and various entities, from chimeras to archangels and monsters. Some of these have made their ways to Earth, like the vicious demon that attacks and eats diners at the Hooters-style restaurant where David’s girlfriend, Rose, works. Such unexplained assaults overwhelm the state of New York, and Rose and David’s mother, Chelsea, take it upon themselves to investigate. They’re capable women who align with Chelsea’s romantic interest, Department of Homeland Security Det. Brendan Dodd, who looked into the bridge collapse. Back in “the macabre purgatory,” David’s meandering journey leads him to Valhalla, where he mingles with dead warriors from different countries and eras. Some train David in weapons and combat, as the young man harbors a “fighting spirit.” He joins others in battling monsters to make it past Valhalla, where David believes his destiny awaits. But if David dies on the battlefield, will he be “reborn” like the warrior souls of Valhalla? And will he ever return to his reality and see Rose and Chelsea again?

Kearns deftly introduces an epic and avoids cramming this engaging series opener with characters and plot. David’s odyssey, for example, consists of a relatively quiet hike with Jacob, and his time in Valhalla zeroes in on only the few warriors he befriends. Similarly, the author keeps the real-world action primarily in New York and, despite hordes of murderous beasts, ensures that one memorable, scheming baddie stands out. The narrative aptly fuses mythologies. Alongside Norse myths, there are Islamic jinns (spirits) as well as the ferocious, water-dwelling bunyip of Australian Aboriginal folklore. Theologies, too, share the spotlight. Jacob describes earthly religions as alternative versions of the same story. While the varied beliefs spark copious scenes of characters explaining things (courtesy of Jacob or a demonologist friend of Chelsea’s), action intermittently bursts in New York and Valhalla. These kinetic sequences feature Kearns’ tightly paced battles and training episodes: “Without thinking, David flipped his weapon to the other hand, stepped back from the snare of the spearhead, and ran down the length of its shaft. The pikeman’s head rolled through the sand before David could take the measure of his own actions.” Valhalla boasts a diverse batch of warriors, including a katana-wielding samurai and a Russian soldier who was killed by a Nazi sniper. Throughout the story, David questions why he’s in this ostensible purgatory, and the novel’s ambiguity may confuse readers as much as it does the hero. But the frenzied final act hints at David’s purpose and makes it clear where the sequel is headed.

This intriguing tale of mythological beings introduces what promises to be an exhilarating saga.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73739-961-2

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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