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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Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC

From the Shades of Magic series , Vol. 1

A fast-paced fantasy adventure that takes readers into a series of interconnected worlds ruled by magic—or the lack of it.

Long ago, the doors between worlds were open, and anyone with magic could travel from one to the next. Now the doors are closed, and only a chosen few have the power to travel between Grey London, a world without magic, Red London, a world suffused with it, and White London, a world where magic is scarce, coveted and jealously guarded. As for Black London, the city consumed, no one would be so foolish as to risk a trip—not even Kell. Officially, he’s a royal messenger, carrying letters among the rulers of the three Londons. Unofficially, he’s a smuggler who collects artifacts from other worlds. It’s that habit that leads him to accept a dangerous relic, something that shouldn’t exist. And it’s when a wanted Grey London thief named Lila steals the artifact that the real trouble starts—for both of them. Schwab (Vicious, 2013, etc.) creates a memorable world—actually, three memorable worlds—and even more memorable characters. Lila in particular is a winningly unconventional heroine who, as she declares, would “rather die on an adventure than live standing still.” The brisk plot makes this a page-turner that confronts darkness but is never overwhelmed by it.

Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7645-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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The strong magic system and plentiful conflicts don’t make up for problematic missteps.

BLOOD & HONEY

From the Serpent & Dove series , Vol. 2

After Serpent & Dove (2019), Lou and Reid must gather allies to take on villainous Morgane.

In a stumbling first act, witch Lou and her forced-husband–turned-love, Reid, struggle to retain likability, making foolish decisions while hiding out from enemies as the heroes regroup and prepare for their next encounter. In a painful bit of characterization, Lou’s sassy empowerment comes at the cost, early on, of the sexual boundaries of the characters around her (unfortunately played as steamy). Further troubling characterization comes in a classist scene in which the heroes mock a dirty, poor person for having missing teeth. To stop Morgane’s murderous endgame spell, they must forge an alliance between enemies: blood witches (Coco’s people), the witch hunters, and werewolves. A colorful surprise alliance comes when they join traveling performers with secrets. Lou and Reid’s romance hits character-driven speed bumps—Lou’s pull toward magic’s darker side isn’t terribly original but is solidly done, and it strengthens Reid’s self-hating and self-acceptance storyline, fueling his anti-magic bias. There’s plenty of action, and secondary characters have their own romantic storylines. The climax gives only a moment to breathe before sinister implications for the next book set in. Though the leads default to white, racial diversity is present in the world and in secondary characters (like brown-skinned Coco and Beau, who is coded as white and Polynesian); additionally, there’s casual inclusion of same-sex relationships and respectful bisexuality representation.

The strong magic system and plentiful conflicts don’t make up for problematic missteps. (Fantasy. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287805-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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