As Juffin says, brightly, “this affair smells strongly of Forbidden Magic.” Just so—and a pleasure for those who like their...

THE STRANGER'S WOES

Max Frei, the cigarette-puffing gumshoe in an alternate, magical universe, is back in his namesake creator’s sophomore entry in the Labryinths of Echo series.

Echo is a sprawling city-state in which Frei the character finds it very easy to get himself in trouble. Frei the creator (The Stranger, 2009) is a Russian born long ago enough to remember the good old days of the Cold War, and there are international intrigues and intrapalace coups enough to assure that there’s trouble to be had. With sidekick Sir Juffin Hully, Frei the character, a lazybones layabout by inclination, finds the start of it in a coming-out party of sorts hosted by one General Boboota Box, late a victim of food poisoning engineered by who knows who and therefore an intimate of the local outhouses—indeed, unlike the rest of the homes of Echo, which “had at least three or four bathing tubs,” the General’s abode has “a dozen toilets of various heights gurgling a discordant welcome to the visitor.” And who did this dastardly deed? Well, Echo is a world of all sorts of plots, a sort of Krypton with tobacco and the counter-universe’s equivalent of vodka. If you have the sense that a shaggy-dog story is in the offing, you’d be right—and what a dog, and what a tail wagging it. Frei the creator takes obvious goofy pleasure in constructing and populating a place in which rival magicians duke it out, good and evil are not always easily identifiable and are sometimes rolled up in the same person, and where a contraption called a “baboom” is enough to put the fear in your garden-variety brigand. It’s all a great romp, and never mind that the logic of the place seems a tad off and various threads of plot get lost amid the fun. 

As Juffin says, brightly, “this affair smells strongly of Forbidden Magic.” Just so—and a pleasure for those who like their fantasy with a measure of slapstick.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59020-478-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2011

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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