A tale of two brothers for whom things work out a little too well to be worth the investment.

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THE ODDLING PRINCE

The king of Calidon is about to die when a mysterious stranger saves him at the last minute—but the stranger carries a secret that could tear the kingdom apart.

A magic ring, after appearing seemingly out of nowhere, is killing the king. Even Prince Aric can't take it off his father's hand, but just when all hope seems lost, a beautiful, fey young man appears at the castle. He tells Aric his name is Albaric and says he's there to help the king. Miraculously, Albaric is able to get the deadly ring off the king's hand, saving his life. Not only that, but he tells a wild story of how the king got the ring from the Queen of Elfland. She captured the king when she saw him out riding, then kept him as her prisoner and companion in her strange world. But the king longed to go home, and when the queen finally granted his wish, she sent him back to the exact moment he'd left, eliminating all memories of his time in Elfland and the son they had together. That son, of course, is Albaric, who sacrificed his immortality to save the father who forgot him and who is devastated when the king distrusts and dislikes him. Even worse, he struggles to adapt to the world of mortals and is unsure of what to do with himself now that the king is alive but doesn't accept him. Aric, however, feels an instant bond with Albaric and vows to help his beloved brother find his place in a world where he will always be an oddling. The prolific Springer (Drawn into Darkness, 2013, etc.) certainly has a knack for a specific twee tone, as this novel floats along like one of the songs Albaric is so often singing. It's a sweet little tale, best suited for those who like their stories entirely without stakes or drama. Not only do no characters lose anything in any meaningful way, but the story doesn't even drum up the fear that they might. Problems are instantly solved, villains immediately eliminated or redeemed. The arc of the king's disdain for Albaric falls flat. Perhaps Springer is aiming for a kind of stylized narrative detachment here, but it comes across as affected and hollow.

A tale of two brothers for whom things work out a little too well to be worth the investment.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61696-289-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Tachyon

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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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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