A futuristic tale that’s heavy on worldbuilding but still races to its inevitably violent conclusion.



Debut author McDermott offers a sweeping dystopian novel about a repressive regime and those who rebel against it.

It’s 2196, and things are not going well for humanity. People either live in a totalitarian society called the Republic or they’re scattered into different sectors of what’s known as the Grey Zone. People in the latter locale don’t have much, and some rely on food aid from the Republic. But at least those who live outside the Republic can enjoy ancient music, including songs by the Rolling Stones (or even Coldplay, if they so choose). More importantly, they don’t have to live in fear of being killed for doing something against the law—such as owning a Holy Bible. The Republic has many other strict rules and plenty of sadistic agents, including Samantha “Slinky” Link, to enforce them. However, even the impressive Slinky can’t stop everyone. Over the course of the book, readers follow a young man in the Republic named Timothy Dawkins as he comes into contact with forbidden knowledge that alters his entire worldview. Meanwhile, out in the Grey Zone, although people are averse to killing, they’re still well stocked with AK-47s—and they’re also getting pretty sick of being pushed around. At more than 900 pages, this adventure is a lengthy one, and some aspects of the tale garner excessive attention. For instance, the official education that Timothy receives goes on for many pages, and although it helps establish for readers just what the Republic is all about, the conversation between the boy and his tutor lends itself to doldrums such as “The fundamental flaw of a democratic society is that it can be infiltrated from within.” Still, as drawn out as some portions of the story may be, it generally maintains momentum. Conflicts are constantly raging both in and out of the Republic, whether they come at the behest of a power-hungry ruler or an alcoholic rebel. Readers will find themselves invested in what happens when the lives of the characters collide.

A futuristic tale that’s heavy on worldbuilding but still races to its inevitably violent conclusion.

Pub Date: March 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-648-75210-3

Page Count: 958

Publisher: Hemisphere Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

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A genre- (and gender-) bending take on the classic Western.


A young woman in an alternate version of the 1890s American West joins a gang of outlaws.

Ada is just a teenager living in the Independent Town of Fairchild when she’s married off and expected to start a family with her new husband. The daughter of the town’s midwife, Ada knows just about all there is to know about childbirth and childbearing—except the reasons behind the failure to conceive, the worst fate that can befall a woman in her society. (The standard punishment for a “barren” woman is to be hanged as a witch.) When she herself cannot get pregnant, Ada must leave her mother and young sisters behind, first fleeing to a convent. Then, when she becomes dissatisfied by the limitations to her learning that convent life dictates, she is directed by the Mother Superior to the Hole in the Wall Gang. Well known as robbers in “the territories,” the gang is led by the mysterious Kid, a figure said to be as “tall as a pine tree and as strong as a grizzly bear.” But when Ada is secreted to their hideout, she finds none of the outlaws, least of all the Kid, are what they seem. North has smashed two unlikely genres together here: the dystopian alternate history and the Western. Calling it The Handmaid’s Tale crossed with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid goes some way to describe the novel’s memorable world, but it is also wholly its own. It earns its place in the growing canon of fiction that subverts the Western genre by giving voice to the true complexity of gender and sexual expression, as well as race relations, that has previously been pushed to the margins of traditional cowboy or westward expansion tales.

A genre- (and gender-) bending take on the classic Western.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63557-542-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.


From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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