A fascinating premise somewhat burdened by workaday execution and pat characterizations, but fans of Kowal's formula will be...

GHOST TALKERS

The terrible death tolls of World War I are revisited in an alternate history where the spirits of the dead can be interrogated for valuable military intelligence in another historical fantasy from Kowal (Of Noble Family, 2015, etc.).

As with her Glamourist series, Kowal follows a recipe of “headstrong young woman + magic + historical period, heavy on the patriarchy.” This time it's the first world war, and our protagonist is Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress and spiritual medium engaged to a British intelligence officer. In France, a special site has been created where dead soldiers give their final reports to Stuyvesant and other mediums. It's a closely guarded war secret, and the Germans scheme to learn it for themselves—or to destroy the mediums. But when something happens to Ginger's protective fiance, Ben, Ginger must navigate wartime bureaucracy, misogyny, racism, intrigue, and treachery on her own. She is helped by young Merrow (Ben's batman); Mrs. Richardson, a middle-aged "anchor" to the mediums; and the limited assistance Ben can provide. But can she trust anyone...even Ben? Ginger's hunt for the truth takes her from infirmaries to the front lines, but the dead are everywhere, and keeping her own soul intact in the face of their pain will be the hardest battle. No need to worry, though—as a heroine, Ginger is plucky, resourceful, upright, and flawless; the good guys all tend to be, here. Ginger's victories over both German plots and the social injustices of her day won't feel terribly surprising, but they may scratch an itch for readers satisfied by such.

A fascinating premise somewhat burdened by workaday execution and pat characterizations, but fans of Kowal's formula will be charmed.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-765-37825-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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