A gripping, if sometimes turgid, work of sinister speculative fiction.

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THE ANTIQUE

A pair of sisters gets caught up in the centuries-old machinations of a Chinese witch in this debut horror fantasy.

Almost 2,000 years ago in China, a witch named Zi-Ling is wrongfully accused of the murder of a warlord’s son. Before she is burned, she curses the warlord and the onlookers in the crowd—as well as all of their descendants. Her ashes are divided into six magic boxes and spread throughout the various Chinese kingdoms. But the witch’s spirit remains and requests that her sister reunite the boxes of ashes so that she may be reincarnated. Over the course of the centuries, Zi-Ling—or the queen, as she styles herself—uses her influence from beyond the grave to track down all but two of the boxes, increasing her power and bringing her closer to a new life. The tale resumes in modern America, where Elise and Maria Wang are growing up in Seattle under their parents’ abusive discipline. The girls realize at a young age that they can read each other’s minds, but after a bizarre and traumatic incident that leads to the deaths of their parents, the two are separated and raised apart. Their unusual powers grow through their adolescence—perhaps because they are Blood Children, descendants of Zi-Ling’s family who are pure enough that she can possess them and force them to hunt for her ashes. Unfortunately for Elise and Maria, the queen—who often takes the form of a creepy old sewing machine—has decided that only one Blood Child can be allowed to live. Fang’s prose is textured and often unsettling, particularly when describing the necromantic powers wielded by the queen and her servants. Here, a homeless girl is targeted: “Something in her pushed her forward; that something inside of her skull was gnawing her at the root of her neck. Strange and unfamiliar voices pounded her head, and panic swelled inside. She pulled her hair, hoping the pain would stop the voices.” The novel takes a long time to get started, and there are a number of scenes and sections that could have been left on the cutting-room floor. That said, the author’s blend of Chinese folklore with modern horror makes for a compelling combination, and those looking for a high-stakes tale of magic and mayhem will likely walk away pleased.

A gripping, if sometimes turgid, work of sinister speculative fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-69504-508-8

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2020

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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