A complex but highly imaginative fantasy tale.

THE SWORD OF KAIGEN

A THEONITE WAR STORY

This companion novel to a YA series tells the story of a mother and son caught up in a shadow war.

The “Sword of Kaigen” is the poetic sobriquet of the Kusanagi Peninsula, whose renowned warriors have long been the most respected in the Kaigenese Empire. The Matsudas are the peninsula’s most eminent warrior family, possessing inherited magic skills and boasting a long line of heroes who have defended the empire from foreign enemies. Fourteen-year-old Mamoru represents the next generation of the Matsuda clan, and he is already an accomplished student at the elite Kumono Academy. But a new student, Kwang Chul-hee, transfers from outside of the province and informs Mamoru that most of what he and his friends are being taught in school is propaganda. Mamoru is at first offended by Kwang’s claim—that the Kaigenese Empire flatters and lies to the provincial Kusanagi in order to use them as cannon fodder in their wars—but what if he isn’t lying? Mamoru goes to his mother, Misaki, to ask her about these things. She was once an accomplished warrior in her own right, though she put that life aside in order to marry into the Matsuda family and provide it with young sons. When she tacitly confirms Kwang’s claims, Mamoru can’t help but act rashly. And when Misaki receives a letter from her past warning that the entire Kusanagi Peninsula is in danger, she may be pulled back into the warrior’s lifestyle that she was forced to give up. Wang’s (Theonite: Orbit, 2017, etc.) novel mixes sci-fi technology with the martial arts lore of East Asia to create a fantasy realm that is intricate and original. When Kwang puts on the school uniform for the first time, he says (winkingly): “I feel like I’m in one of those old samurai movies.…It’s like I stepped through a portal back in time.” The book’s mythology is dense and takes some getting used to—readers familiar with the author’s previous Theonite volumes will likely have an easier time—but this inventive story of a warrior family is self-contained enough to be enjoyed on its own.

A complex but highly imaginative fantasy tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 558

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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