A longish, lightish adventure set in a world forgotten by most history books.



Children’s author Spinka (Mother’s Blessing, 1992, etc.) makes a leap to adult fiction with a 14th-century tale of a young Mohawk girl who samples a variety of North American cultures.

As her name implies, Picture Maker knows how to draw. But this remains her name only briefly, for soon after we are introduced to the Ganeogaono people, Picture Maker is abducted by Algonquins and traded off as a slave. Her first master is so cruel that other Algonquins feel pity for her, and no one is sorry when she murders her owner and runs away—though not before she is pregnant. Now called Little One, she finds friendlier Algonquins but stays with them only a short time, fearing reprisal for her crime. She allows herself to be traded to the Inuits in the north, who call her Mikisoq and murder her baby because it’s a girl. When the Inuit tribe splits, Mikisoq goes with the group heading across a frozen ocean. These eventually encounter their first white man, a Greenlander with a knife identical to the one Mikisoq has had since her time with the Algonquins. It’s fate, and Mikisoq, soon to be Astrid, marries the knife-holder, a burly redhead. But will the mini–Ice Age of the 14th century spoil a fairy tale ending? If the cold doesn’t become the death of Mikisoq and her man, maybe the Christians will. The story is epic, but the telling hasn’t grown up quite as fast as Picture Maker has: the cadence has a YA feel, and much information is repeated. The history is complete and unforgiving but sometimes takes precedence over character—only moments after being raped, for instance, Picture Maker describes her rapist as not unpleasant to look at. Consistency may be a problem as well: Picture Maker knows that clams are bivalve creatures but can convey “twenty” only by saying “four hands.”

A longish, lightish adventure set in a world forgotten by most history books.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-525-94624-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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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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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.


From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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