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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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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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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