An engaging, compulsively readable fantasy.

Shadow's Voice

A young girl with a checkered past and a mysterious magic power is drafted into a mission to save her kingdom.

Johanson’s debut fantasy novel is the story of Rose Ula, a girl with the power to move through shadows. When the story opens, Rose is on the run from her past, but a chance encounter with a dying man changes her world forever. The man, an officer named Nico, reveals that there is a plot to assassinate the king, and he begs Rose to bring this information to the royal castle. Despite her apprehension, Rose does so and soon finds herself immersed in the world of royalty and nobility, many of whom also possess magical gifts of their own. As Rose grudgingly learns to trust the new friends she has made—especially the handsome, kindly young King Micah—she realizes she must stop running from her past. While she learns to master her powers and open her heart, it becomes clear that more is at stake than she ever thought possible: the fate of the kingdom may lie in her hands. Johanson deftly builds Rose’s world, with the rules of the universe feeling mostly clear and easy to follow. Rose is an engaging heroine, as are many of the supporting characters. From the brusque but caring healer Master Rita to the telepathic Capt. Sayla, they generally feel complex and three-dimensional. However, as the novel builds toward its climax, the rules of the magic get a little hard to follow, making the final battle more muddled than suspenseful. There are also a few too many incidents of Rose collapsing into the king’s arms from overuse of her magic or because of some other external danger (Rose even remarks, “You are always carrying me. Why is that?” so maybe the narrative is in on the joke). Ultimately, though, the novel is a fun, well-crafted story that fantasy readers should enjoy. The conclusion is open-ended enough to suggest at least one sequel; let’s hope Johanson delivers.

An engaging, compulsively readable fantasy.

Pub Date: June 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-9-18-775151-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Elementá/Wisehouse

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2015

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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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