While mystical elements befit the genre, the relatable human characters make this story indelible.

TEARS OF WINTER

LIGHT FROM APHELION

When a plague begins killing the citizens of a kingdom, the king, queen, and others embark on a quest to find a cure in this fantasy sequel.

Lissandro, prince of the Frozen Mountains, is visiting the kingdom of Trevalden just in time for the winter solstice. It’s a time to celebrate with his friends Louis, the king, and Selen, who’s likely the only male queen in the neighboring countries. But sudden deaths from a mysterious sickness halt the festivities in the kingdom’s capital of Nysa Serin. It’s quickly apparent that further ailing citizens indicate a plague that, based on an autopsy, isn’t one Louis or anyone has seen before. Lissandro suggests traveling to the Ebony Forest, where there’s a magical place that may have answers—and a cure. He and the royal couple join a small group and head north. But their journey proves much longer and more treacherous than they had envisioned. Bodies along the way seem to point to a murderer within the group. This may be the same person who’s possibly feeding information to bandits who have the travelers in their sights. Back in Trevalden, Lords Pembroke and Josselin, both ministers, try to retain order, which is a decidedly arduous task, as someone essentially stages an uprising. Louis hopes that he, Selen, or another can survive with a traitor in the group’s midst. Even if most of them perish, it only takes one individual to return to Trevalden with the cure. Though Carlsson’s (Rising From Dust, 2017) novel has all the ingredients of a fantasy, such as dragons and hints of magic, it’s the interaction between the humans that propels the story. For example, distrust slowly emerges within the traveling group, and there’s a betrayal in Trevalden. It’s an engrossing approach that leads to myriad dynamic characters, all with their own flaws. This includes the royal couple, two men who are unquestionably in love, as evidenced by their few prolonged, occasionally explicit dalliances. But they’re not immune to friction since Selen’s worry about being unable to birth an heir for Louis makes the king believe the queen is unhappy with their relationship. The author’s descriptions are solid but especially vibrant when lingering on the environment: “The melancholic landscape of fields and copses stretched from a vale to the other. Here and there, bound to the sky by their columns of smoke, homesteads curled in the shade of a forest. Brown, hunched figures hustled around like ants on an anthill.” But there’s an unfortunate lack of female characters, with Kilda, part of Louis’ group, the only notable woman. Adding to that is Louis’ insulting the gender by implying Kilda isn’t “respectable” due to her manner of speech and dress and saying her place, as a wife, is at home. Nevertheless, with quite a few deceitful characters in the mix, Carlsson’s tale revolves around ever changing perceptions, and Kilda’s strength is evident before the end.

While mystical elements befit the genre, the relatable human characters make this story indelible.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 711

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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

DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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