A daring and thematically sure-footed Scottish tale.

RAVENHEART

This debut novel sees horror and magic enter a young girl’s life after her mother is accused of witchcraft.

In 15th-century Scotland, Bridget MacTigue is a widow who runs a small farm with her two daughters. Agnes is 3 years old and Bernadette is 12. One night, the sheriff of Moray visits, along with Janet MacTigue—Bridget’s kinswoman and friend, who recently suffered a miscarriage—and accuses her of witchery. The sheriff arrests and imprisons Bridget in a pit on High Street in the town of Forresgem. On Bridget’s instruction, Bernadette transfers their meager possessions to a nearby cave. But before she can bring Agnes, their cottage is raided and the child is taken by a “well-to-do man.” Bernadette then moves through town disguised as a short-haired, male ragamuffin. She listens at the pit where Bridget awaits execution and hears of the love triangle that developed between Janet, Father Dougal, and her mother. “Look forward and love yourself,” Bridget tells her daughter, shortly before her cruel demise. Later, with little will to live herself, Bernadette encounters a Slig Maith, “a dangerous and magical being.” The beautiful woman is a queen who offers to train Bernadette in the powers she already has, then get retribution on those who destroyed her family. The queen also describes the end of the Slig Maith if humanity’s rapacious expansion isn’t checked. In her series opener, Johnson builds an effective period piece enlivened by nuanced fantasy flourishes. Bridget’s relationship with Father Dougal is a heart-rending example of women treated like chattel. She says, “When I looked into his eyes, I could feel doors opening into other places and other people.” Bernadette eventually meets her own Broonie (or house elf), Murray, who teaches her reading and writing, and a mental and physical trainer named Liu Shen, who introduces her to the vital forces qi and energia. Scottish folklore and martial arts are an odd mix, but the author effectively combines them in a teen battling the controlling toxicity of the church. This installment focuses on the heroine’s revenge and its surprising outcome, successfully whetting reader appetites for a sequel with higher stakes.

A daring and thematically sure-footed Scottish tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-982212-07-0

Page Count: 220

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2019

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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