A high-concept, if ultimately underwhelming, fantasy tale inspired by Hindu teachings.

Highway of Spirits

AN ODYSSEY

Baronas imagines a world steeped in great spiritual power in this debut novel.

Jude Ryder is an aspiring filmmaker turned drug dealer—as well as a deep James Dean aficionado—who finds himself in 1970s India searching for a larger spiritual truth. In Haridwar, where the holy Ganges meets the fertile plain of northern India at the base of the Himalayas, Jude encounters a couple of ascetics who promise to take him to meet Shiva. Jude has been burned before by those claiming to know the path to enlightenment. “Hashish Shiva is a phony Shiva,” he tells them when he sees their pipes. “You’re not yogis, you’re a couple of fakes.” The yogis turn out to be the real deal, however, and Jude sets off on a quest that will take him to the edges of reality and truth. He learns the concept of true war, wherein the soul must free itself of entrapments, and of the brahmastra, a spiritual nuclear bomb that can wreak havoc on the foes of the fighter who possesses it. His training will take him across the world, from Haridwar to his native Los Angeles, where a power rises that threatens to destabilize the balance of the universe. Navigating through a secret world of cults, spirits, loves, and betrayals, Jude embarks on a journey to become a true mystical warrior and defeat the ultimate enemy: that which resides inside himself. Snide and vain, Jude is a nearly unbearable protagonist. When one of his ascetic guides criticizes war as “false,” Jude replies with this platitude: “If it were not for false war you might well be goose-stepping up and down Chandi Chawk.” The application of Hindu spiritualism to a Western-style urban fantasy novel is intriguing, and Baronas displays ambition in the range of concepts he attempts to address. Unfortunately, the characters around which he has built his story aren’t substantial enough to support it, and much of the book ends up feeling more like a didactic philosophical essay than a work of speculative fiction.

A high-concept, if ultimately underwhelming, fantasy tale inspired by Hindu teachings.

Pub Date: June 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5143-0812-7

Page Count: 342

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

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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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