This engaging series entry delivers a nuanced critique of despotism.

PESTILENCE

From the Second Son Chronicles series , Vol. 3

A new king returns his realm to a darker age in this third volume of a fantasy series.

A horse-riding accident has resulted in King Edward’s death. John now occupies the throne, the older of two sons who has never been known for his intellect or manners. Lord Alfred, Edward’s younger son, beloved in court for his curiosity and compassion, stands ready to aid the transition. But John is a lout and immediately begins reordering royal life in ways that flout tradition. He tries, for example, to hold his father’s funeral and his own coronation in the same week. Lady Alice, the dowager queen, and the bishop help him make a better decision, yet this is merely a taste of John’s contempt for what the preceding rulers have built. He goes on to disband the commercial Assembly and empties the court of the lords, including Richard Devereux, whose strong loyalty enriches the realm. Alfred and his wife, Gwendolyn, are among those who pray John’s power-drunk maneuvers will burn out, but life only gets worse. Scores of people lose their jobs as the king mismanages whole systems of rule. Rogue preachers incite violence in the streets. Knights and their checkpoints become ubiquitous to halt immigration. To save the last century of progress, drastic action must be taken. In this installment of her series, Taylor deftly depicts the fragility of a society in the grip of a madman. History buffs will appreciate how she illustrates the progressive mechanisms that launched the Renaissance, such as books being cheap enough to buy at markets. John is perhaps too perfect a villain, the type readers will want to reach through the page and strangle. The author speaks directly to Americans suffering in the current political climate, especially when Alfred wonders: “How do I teach my children that they have a duty to respect...the king despite the fact that he regularly fails to embody the virtues they are asked to demonstrate?” Alfred isn’t a perfect character himself, but he becomes a more rounded one when he has an affair with businesswoman Amelia Greslet. The next installment promises a massive emotional payoff.

This engaging series entry delivers a nuanced critique of despotism. (family trees, map)

Pub Date: June 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68433-481-0

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more