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

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Mark your calendars, this is the next big thing.

BLACK SUN

From the Between Earth and Sky series , Vol. 1

A powerful priest, an outcast seafarer, and a man born to be the vessel of a god come together in the first of Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky trilogy.

The winter solstice is coming, and the elite members of the sacred Sky Made clans in the city of Tova are preparing for a great celebration, led by Naranpa, the newly appointed Sun Priest. But unrest is brewing in Carrion Crow, one of the clans. Years ago, a previous Sun Priest feared heresy among the people of Carrion Crow and ordered his mighty Watchers to attack them, a terrible act that stripped the clan of its power for generations. Now, a secretive group of cultists within Carrion Crow believe that their god is coming back to seek vengeance against the Sun Priest, but Naranpa’s enemies are much closer than any resurrected god. Meanwhile, a young sailor named Xiala has been outcast from her home and spends much of her time drowning her sorrows in alcohol in the city of Cuecola. Xiala is Teek, a heritage that brings with it some mysterious magical abilities and deep knowledge of seafaring but often attracts suspicion and fear. A strange nobleman hires Xiala to sail a ship from Cuecola to Tova. Her cargo? A single passenger, Serapio, a strange young man with an affinity for crows and a score to settle with the Sun Priest. Roanhorse’s fantasy world based on pre-Columbian cultures is rich, detailed, and expertly constructed. Between the political complications in Tova, Serapio’s struggle with a great destiny he never asked for, and Xiala’s discovery of abilities she never knew she had, the pages turn themselves. A beautifully crafted setting with complex character dynamics and layers of political intrigue? Perfection.

Mark your calendars, this is the next big thing.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3767-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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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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