A dense, knotty SF tale set in an age of neo-barbarism.

GLEEMAN'S TALES

In the first part of Travagline’s debut SF duology, an itinerant entertainer in a post-apocalyptic, dark-age future keeps memories of the old world alive through storytelling.

About 1,000 years ago, an atomic world war broke out, creating recurring, yearslong nuclear winters around the globe. Civilization, of sorts, has made a slow, painful return, and regional warlords, kings, and guilds compete ruthlessly for power. In the land of Lyrinth in what used to be part of North America, Gnochi Gleeman is an “entertainer,” wandering from place to place, telling his tales of the “first age” world and its achievements. The vagrant guitarist with failing vision may seem unimpressive, but Gleeman is actually an accomplished blade fighter and schemer—a requirement for self-defense, as fanatic “Luddites,” opposed to the progress that brought ruin to mankind, are also a danger to him. But currently, Gleeman has greater concerns. He’s been forced to undertake a mission of treachery and assassination by a man named Jackal, who had his family kidnapped. A complication arises when Cleo, the runaway teenage daughter of an aristocrat, impulsively joins Gleeman, and he doesn’t have the will to force her away. Together, they find tenuous shelter with a “menagerie”—a traveling circus that’s actually a kind of mobile commando unit in disguise. Travagline effectively keeps a lot of subterfuge under wraps and embeds key plot points in flashbacks; moreover, readers get an anthology of Gleeman’s titular tales that are woven into the tapestry of the larger narrative. They include everything from a sort of experimental-theater playlet (“God is a Dinosaur”) to a Civil War spin on Frank R. Stockton’s classic 1882 story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” to a World War II alternate-history tale in which Nazis gain an advantage in 1941. These lengthy asides do push the main plotline to the margins, and other elements, including magic, spirit animals, and psychic phenomena, intrude into Gleeman’s world, leaving a rather peculiar taste; readers may wonder: Was that really a talking white wolf or a piece of one of Aesop’s—or rather Gleeman’s—fables? The finale provides a cliffhanger that virtually severs the story in two.

A dense, knotty SF tale set in an age of neo-barbarism.

Pub Date: June 6, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 427

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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

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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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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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