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


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


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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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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An impressive beginning to what looks to be an ambitious series.


From the The Shadow Histories series , Vol. 1

An alternate history in the style of Naomi Novik and Susanna Clarke explores the French and Haitian revolutions with a magical twist.

This series opener has three plotlines. One follows Fina, a young enslaved woman who eventually joins with Toussaint Louverture and plays a pivotal role in the revolution against slavery and French rule in Saint-Domingue; the second follows Camille Desmoulins and Maximilien Robespierre as they stir up the bloody Reign of Terror; and the third follows friends William Pitt and William Wilberforce as they rise in the ranks of the British Parliament. Parry is working with historical events and (mostly) real characters here, but this is a world where some people are born with magical abilities. Some can control the weather, some can manipulate metal, some can even control others through “mesmerism.” Some magicians have abilities that are wholly outlawed, like necromancy, and “vampires”—here meaning human magicians who can ingest blood to give themselves eternal life—have been wiped out altogether (supposedly). But who is allowed to use their magic? Only White aristocrats, of course, and with the aid of magic, White slave owners literally control slaves’ every movement, trapping them inside their minds. But enslaved people, like Fina, are finding ways to break free and fight back, and in Europe, politicians like Pitt and Wilberforce are working to abolish the slave trade and give people of all classes the right to use their gifts. Desmoulins and Robespierre start out fighting for freedom, but as the French Revolution descends into pure violence, it becomes clear that someone is manipulating Robespierre to cause as much death as possible. The story leans too heavily on dialogue, which, unfortunately, is not Parry’s strongest suit. Her real talent lies in immersive worldbuilding and meticulous plotting, and she does an expert job of setting the scene for the rest of the series while simultaneously constructing a story that’s engaging in its own right.

An impressive beginning to what looks to be an ambitious series.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-45908-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Redhook/Orbit

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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