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

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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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Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

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MEXICAN GOTHIC

Moreno-Garcia offers a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror, set in 1950s Mexico.

Inquisitive 22-year-old socialite and anthropology enthusiast Noemí Taboada adores beautiful clothes and nights on the town in Mexico City with a bevy of handsome suitors, but her carefree existence is cut short when her father shows her a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina, who recently married fair-haired and blue-eyed Virgil Doyle, who comes from a prominent English mining family that built their now-dwindling fortune on the backs of Indigenous laborers. Catalina lives in High Place, the Doyle family’s crumbling mansion near the former mining town of El Triunfo. In the letter, Catalina begs for Noemí’s help, claiming that she is “bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin,” and that High Place is “sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.” Upon Noemí’s arrival at High Place, she’s struck by the Doyle family’s cool reception of her and their unabashed racism. She's alarmed by the once-vibrant Catalina’s listless state and by the enigmatic Virgil and his ancient, leering father, Howard. Nightmares, hallucinations, and phantasmagoric dreams of golden dust and fleshy bodies plague Noemí, and it becomes apparent that the Doyles haven’t left their blood-soaked legacy behind. Luckily, the brave Noemí is no delicate flower, and she’ll need all her wits about her for the battle ahead. Moreno-Garcia weaves elements of Mexican folklore with themes of decay, sacrifice, and rebirth, casting a dark spell all the way to the visceral and heart-pounding finale.

Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-62078-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Weird and haunting and excellent.

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PIRANESI

The much-anticipated second novel from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004).

The narrator of this novel answers to the name “Piranesi” even though he suspects that it's not his name. This name was chosen for him by the Other, the only living person Piranesi has encountered during his extensive explorations of the House. Readers who recognize Piranesi as the name of an Italian artist known for his etchings of Roman ruins and imaginary prisons might recognize this as a cruel joke that the Other enjoys at the expense of the novel’s protagonist. It is that, but the name is also a helpful clue for readers trying to situate themselves in the world Clarke has created. The character known as Piranesi lives within a Classical structure of endless, inescapable halls occasionally inundated by the sea. These halls are inhabited by statues that seem to be allegories—a woman carrying a beehive; a dog-fox teaching two squirrels and two satyrs; two children laughing, one of them carrying a flute—but the meaning of these images is opaque. Piranesi is happy to let the statues simply be. With her second novel, Clarke invokes tropes that have fueled a century of surrealist and fantasy fiction as well as movies, television series, and even video games. At the foundation of this story is an idea at least as old as Chaucer: Our world was once filled with magic, but the magic has drained away. Clarke imagines where all that magic goes when it leaves our world and what it would be like to be trapped in that place. Piranesi is a naif, and there’s much that readers understand before he does. But readers who accompany him as he learns to understand himself will see magic returning to our world.

Weird and haunting and excellent.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-563-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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