Excessive jargon and a gigantic ensemble break the spell of this well-meaning fantasy novel.

DEMONS OF THE ISLANDS

The mystical exploits of Sheer’An and company continue in this fourth installment of Ponder’s Cel’mystry series (The Only Road, 2011, etc.), which is the first to credit co-author Nash.

Sheer’An lives with a makeshift family of Busshidoe warriors, former slaves, and half-humans. She is a “First One in miniature...barely taller than a Gnome,” branded by the “Wyrd mark.” The family lives by “complex codes of honesty and honor that both the First Ones and the Busshidoe follow” and are bound together by one uncanny fact: “All of us have died at least once….” They often show solidarity; when Sheer’An travels to the Island colony to buy a musical instrument and encounters a discriminatory shopkeeper, her supernatural crew assembles to defend her by “creating some Chaos.” The shopkeeper, needless to say, reconsiders. The theme of prejudice reappears when the Shaougaun, the realm’s leader, starts persecuting religious islanders. After consulting the Great God, the gang receives orders to help the mortals resist. So begins one quest. Another starts when Redbow, Sheer’An’s brother, seeks to settle a grudge against the corrupt Conservatory, but must first seek out Clove Clearwater—a man “madder than a clan of Coppers on craze weed.” These tales are told from alternating perspectives. The authors show an obvious affection for their strong-willed characters, and Cel’mystry offers a rich and detailed world. But many readers will struggle to absorb the complex genealogies and mystical taxonomies, which frequently confuse more than please. “Mallandry here was blood bonded brother to Sheer’An’s father,” one character explains, “that makes her his relative by blood as well. As for me, Sheer’An addition is one of my own.” With so many complicated ties and unanswered questions about the world itself, many readers will have a hard time understanding what’s at stake in the characters’ quests, which unfold at a leisurely pace.

Excessive jargon and a gigantic ensemble break the spell of this well-meaning fantasy novel.  

Pub Date: June 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470186425

Page Count: 334

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2012

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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