Not exactly profound, but top-notch literary escapism with nonstop action, well-developed characters and jaw-dropping plot...

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THE BATTLE FOR DARRACIA - BOOK 2

At breakneck speed, Cash’s (Schism, 2013, etc.)second installment in the Darracia saga blends elements of sci-fi and fantasy as it continues to chronicle the adventures of a small group of heroes desperately attempting to unite a war-torn planet.

Still reeling from his uncle’s brutal attempt to usurp his father’s throne, V’sair—now king of Darracia—is struggling to keep alive his dead father’s dreams of a united planet. But the tensions between the Darracians (muscular humanoids with tails who live in floating cities) and the Quyroos, who live in the forests far below, are rising. To make matters worse, V’sair’s treacherous uncle Staf Nuen, a Darracian, has escaped and is no doubt planning another attack. The novel is essentially two intertwining storylines: One follows V’sair and his love interest, Tulani, a Quyroo high priestess, as they try to reunite the two races while also uncovering a traitor in their ranks; the other follows V’sair’s brother Zayden and his mission to find—and kill—Nuen. While both storylines are well-constructed and compelling, Zayden’s is easily the more entertaining as he tracks Nuen from planet to planet, going from one hair-raising adventure to another. The sequences featuring Zayden and Denita—including his overly possessive and undeniably seductive savior (“I saved you and you belong to me”)—give the story’s serious tone some much-needed levity. In a minor setback, the narrative tends to lose focus on worldbuilding. The series’ first volume was filled with rich descriptions of the various locales on and around Darracia—the thick forest of the Desa, for example—while this novel concentrates much more on action than on setting.

Not exactly profound, but top-notch literary escapism with nonstop action, well-developed characters and jaw-dropping plot twists.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4952-7348-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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