A striking tale of violence and redemption with an abundance of mysterious dream/nightmare imagery.

THE SILENCE THAT BINDS

In a post-apocalyptic world swept by a plague, two young women search for their missing mentor, lost in an infected landscape.

Fantasy/SF author Jessup conjures up a fever-dream, chaotic, dystopian environment that might be future Earth, distant-past Earth, or maybe another colonized planet in this novel; it is difficult to judge. Humans seem to have forgotten most of their history, terrorized and diminished as they are by the “curse,” the tag given to a grotesque plague of unknown nature that afflicts not only flesh, but also inorganic objects (entire buildings, in fact) and, possibly, reality itself. Animals and people tend to transform painfully into monstrous, destructive, multiheaded chimeras (many others seem to become zombies—though that genre buzzword is never used). Defending against the horror is a sisterhood of “seers,” female orphans who dwell in a labyrinth of bones and train in combat archery, dancing rites, and curious healing arts, communing with the world’s “ghosts.” The seers can forestall, if not completely cure, the curse, a principal method being the forcible insertion of a precious “ghost heart” (and, sometimes, a few butterflies) into a victim’s tortured body. Mazi and Talia, two young temple acolytes, have left the labyrinth in search of Naomi, a missing older seer whom they regard as a mother figure. The quest grows more desperate when Mazi, wounded, realizes she is infected by the dreaded curse. Jessup’s prose sometimes recalls Harlan Ellison at his most extravagant, invoking a lurid, elastic environment steeped in ritual yet with delirious magic as well as weird science. A space-based artificial intelligence called the Dzall figures into the equation, and some characters and entities may be robots, androids, or nanotechnology creations. Expect no firm answers or solid exposition by the time the narrative arc (a rather simple one, when all is said and done) reaches its cathartic conclusion. Just go with the vivid flow of descriptions of entropic desolation and phantasmagoric filigree: “The hollow stones were a mess of geometry on the side of the hill. Trees seemed to back away from them, and the air smelled like pine and earth and fungal things spreading out underground.”

A striking tale of violence and redemption with an abundance of mysterious dream/nightmare imagery.

Pub Date: April 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952283-09-3

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Vernacular Books

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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