Overlong and rough around the edges but still promising.

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CITY OF BROKEN MAGIC

In this debut novel, specially trained operatives called Sweepers are the only thing standing in the way of creatures that devour magic—and humans.

Twenty-year-old Laura Kramer is the frequently exasperated apprentice (of only a few months) to the perennially cranky Clae Sinclair, one of the few Sweepers left on the island city of Amicae in the Orien Territories. Their job is to eradicate the infestations of monsters that result from broken magic amulets, which are used for many things, including electricity among the city’s elite, and require regular upkeep. The city’s propaganda campaign has convinced its populace that infestations are (mostly) a thing of the past, but Clae and Laura know better, and it’s up to them to keep people safe from the slimy creatures that propagate from broken magic, because once an infestation grows out of control, it’s a nasty business indeed. Laura, Clae, and a newly added apprentice, Okane, a shy Magi they liberate as “payment” from a wealthy and haughty businessman and his wife, must not only wrangle with monsters of the supernatural kind, but also mobsters and rival Sweepers. The magic system is fascinating, but the worldbuilding can be confusing: a mix of seemingly late-19th or early-20th-century industrialization with a fashion sense right out of the late 1800s ("bloomer dresses" for women are all the rage, and " 'lady trousers' weren't extremely popular"), while there are cable cars and vehicles suited to the 1930s. But, luckily, a lengthy history lesson at the midpoint will answer many readers' questions. Citizens are divided into Quarters based on social class, and it’s pretty faithfully adhered to, although Laura, who lives with her aunt Morgan and Morgan’s young daughter, Cheryl, takes great pride in bucking the system in not only how she dresses, but also in her delightful refusal to present herself as purely marriageable property. Bolender has plenty of opportunity to put a romantic interest in Laura’s path but resists this and instead lets the inquisitive Laura find her own way; Laura and Clae provide plenty of chemistry of the nonromantic kind, and there's even humor, such as Laura’s fruitless efforts to suss out Clae’s true age.

Overlong and rough around the edges but still promising.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-16927-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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

THE FIFTH SEASON

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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