Expect the unexpected. Then savor the luscious chills.

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FRAGILE THINGS

SHORT FICTIONS AND WONDERS

Neo-Goth-Pulp-Noir has pretty much been trademarked by Gaiman (Anansi Boys, 2005, etc.), and these 31 jagged slices of life and the afterlife dependably deliver the damaged goods: zombies, dream-haunted kiddies, femmes fatale and fiends.

Reprising his role from American Gods (2001) as ex-con, taciturn hunk, superhero and reincarnation of the Norse god Baldur, Shadow shakes things up in “The Monarch of the Glen,” battling a primeval beastie and romancing a woodland nymph in the unlikely setting of a tycoon’s get-together on the Scottish heath. “Good Boys Deserve Favours” highlights a lonely lad’s moony passion for his double bass. “Strange Little Girls,” penned to accompany a Tori Amos CD, catalogues the Eternal Feminine from showgirls to Holocaust victims to la belle dame sans merci. “October in the Chair” whimsically features the months as characters. “A Study in Emerald” offers smart, nifty homage to Conan Doyle. In “Harlequin Valentine,” Missy the waitress chows down lovingly on the heart of the motley-clad acrobat of the commedia dell’arte, but even that grisly feast is rendered with swooning lyricism. Gaiman again proves himself a perverse romantic, heir not only to Poe and Baudelaire but to the breathless Pre-Raphaelites. (The poetry he includes here, for example, is generally less creepy than drippy.) He wears his pop cred in boldface, and street-smart hipness saturates these eerie epiphanies. But the collection also boasts lush prose, a lack of irony and a winning faith in the enchantment of stories.

Expect the unexpected. Then savor the luscious chills.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-051522-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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