A high-concept adventure that doesn't think its readers are clever enough to get it.

THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES

After graduating from her monster-infested high school, a young witch determined to overcome her inclinations toward dark magic finds that she alone can stave off wizarding society's collapse.

After spending the last four years of her life locked up in the Scholomance—a school carved from interstitial space where mages' children go to hone their craft—Galadriel "El" Higgins returns to the real world heartbroken. Following their run through a gauntlet of monsters in a grisly graduation rite, her fake boyfriend–turned–true love, Orion, shoved her through the Scholomance's magical exit and did not follow. Fearing that Orion has been eaten by a maw-mouth—a creature that hopelessly traps its victims in a painful, never-ending dying process—El sets out to end his suffering forever. Getting back into the fallen Scholomance requires a huge supply of mana, as does killing a maw-mouth, and so El must first journey to the world's most powerful wizard enclaves in search of allies. This globe-trotting adventure quickly turns into a slog, however, as triumphs and tribulations flatten under the weight of exposition and poor pacing. Much of Novik's attention here feels severely misplaced. Rare moments of tension resolve too quickly for readers to feel their impacts, and the novel founders as El continues the infodumping habit previously seen in A Deadly Education (2020) and The Last Graduate (2021), sucking the narrative pacing dry with long-winded explanations that touch on everything from other characters' motives to her own powers. We learn a lot about one interesting character only to have her promptly disappear from the story for good. El's two sexual encounters with a female frenemy serve no purpose in developing either the characters' individual stories or the narrative as a whole. An enemy El assures us is "an evil monster" earns her redemption with little to no explanation, and everything readers already know—from the way El memorized her friends' phone numbers to the purpose and value of mana—is bound to be reiterated again and again.

A high-concept adventure that doesn't think its readers are clever enough to get it.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-15835-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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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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