A delectably moody supernatural nail-biter.

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THE OCCULTISTS

A teenager in the early 20th century enters into a precarious relationship with a cult in this debut dark fantasy.

To avoid working for his abusive stepfather, Max Grahame takes a job at the post office in his small Georgia town. The postmaster, Peter Sylvester, and his wife, Addie, seem to take a liking to the 15-year-old. But Max quickly learns of their eccentricities when they take him to a séance. Peter and Addie belong to the Brotherhood of the Aurora, a spiritualist faction whose members believe in and practice “occult phenomena.” Evidently certain that Max has potential, Peter sends the teen to study at an academy of sorts in Nebraska. Max has little choice but to agree, as local cops are eying him for a recent murder he witnessed. Once in Nebraska, he joins other “initiates” in honing such abilities as mind reading, astral travel, and, in Max’s case, psychokinesis. Sadly, as he had left behind his family, Max longs to return home only to learn that his stay at the school may not be voluntary. Soon, he has no idea whom he can trust, and he’ll have to form alliances with potentially dangerous individuals just to keep himself safe. Schattel wastes little time in establishing a brooding atmosphere. For example, the story offers an early introduction to Mister Splitfoot, a “man-spirit” who torments Max throughout the novel. Indelible prose further augments the environment: “Stale chilly air. The stink of saliva. A clutter of upturned chairs, decayed, crumbling tables and medicinal cabinets.” In the same vein, a host of characters is ambiguous, as Max is never sure what seemingly amiable person will ultimately become a menace. The author adds fantasy trademarks, including displays of paranormal capabilities, sometimes in tense, combative sequences. There are some notably violent scenes, like Max as a “blood boy,” assisting a doctor during a particularly visceral operation.

A delectably moody supernatural nail-biter. (dedication, author’s note, author bio)

Pub Date: July 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-950305-44-5

Page Count: 330

Publisher: JournalStone

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2020

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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