Entertainingly strange, though some portions feel more out-of-place than thrilling.

QUANTUM HEIGHTS

THE DEAD PATH CHRONICLES

A rambunctious fantasy novel filled with knights and vampires.

Valicek (The Dark Magical World of Alamptria, 2016, etc.) takes readers to the year 2255. In the land of Alamptria, the Dark Lord Makoor, along with his vampire minions, is “eager to destroy humanity.” Fortunately for humankind, there are knights like Caprius Seaton, the son of Confidus Seaton, the dashing King of Elysium, whose castle features such amenities as a giant indoor pool. Caprius is no softie, though. Like his fellow knights, he’s bound to the “holy council of sacred deeds” and must be ready to go whenever and wherever Makoor may strike. It’s also prophesied that Caprius’ unborn son will one day be responsible for Makoor’s destruction. Caprius, who has an enhanced sword called a “claymore of power,” and his partner, Calista, are tasked with investigating the recent deaths of two of the king’s agents. Their bodies were left in dirt-filled coffins, and they were found holding onto pocket watches set to precisely 8:10 p.m. It initially seems like a simple and relatively straightforward assignment, but Caprius and Calista prove to be a volatile pair. Meanwhile, a man named Colburn is planning to mass-produce a serum that can be used to turn relatively sedate, ordinary animals into superintelligent predators. Colburn’s plan, meanwhile, has caught the attention of a fierce and beautiful woman named Cynthia Davenport, who lives in the troubled town of Jethro, a place riddled with “hoodlums, bums, and grifters,” where toughness is essential for survival. Cynthia is compelled to stop Colburn even though doing so will certainly bring her into some dangerous situations—and so the reader embarks on a supernatural journey that’s whimsical, intricate, and bizarre, by turns. The various characters engage in plenty of combat scenes, but at other times, they indulge in calmer pursuits, such as traveling by train and ordering fine wines. A scene involving vampires playing poker is hardly the most eccentric one in the novel, although it is a good example of its mixture of the absurd and the darkly serious. Plenty of blood is spilled (and drunk) throughout, and the surprises range from the fun to the silly to the questionable. In one scene, for example, Caprius is having dinner in an entertainment lounge when his waiter is killed and replaced by an evildoer. Caprius is well-aware that the new person isn’t a waiter, and as a result, the scene becomes comical but also puzzling: could the bad guys really be so naïve? Or has Caprius inadvertently entered a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch? It is indeed refreshing to encounter a genre piece that doesn’t take itself too seriously—although the resulting mayhem can sometimes be distracting. Early plot questions are thankfully answered, but on the whole, the story is more of a patchwork than a tightly woven piece. The late inclusion of a hot air balloon is memorable, even if it doesn’t fit too well into the greater puzzle.

Entertainingly strange, though some portions feel more out-of-place than thrilling.

Pub Date: May 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5331-1916-2

Page Count: 338

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE WATER DANCER

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

Did you like this book?

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more