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THE SCREAMING SKULL

From the Chronicles of Elberon series , Vol. 1

A joyously coarse and self-aware epic fantasy.

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In this debut novel, a so-called royal hero reflects on his life as upheaval awaits on the horizon.

King Elberon, lord of the Tradewind Isles, is about to turn 65 years old. He’s led an illustrious life of adventure and just learned from his friend Wilberd, who glanced through the Astral Telescope at the monarch’s future, that he’ll live to be 130. Yet Elberon thinks mainly of the companions who’ll attend his birthday party in nine days, including the warrior Amabored and his former love Melinda the Blade. “When I finally get them all together,” he thinks, “I’m going to kill every last one of them.” He then begins detailing his youth among the Free Kingdoms of the Woerth and even the Multiverse after he told his father, King Olderon, that he wanted to visit Redhauke, a cosmopolitan city ripe with crime and opportunity. There, he met Amabored, the elf Lithaine, and the mage Redulfo. Given additional strength by the Girdle of Gargantua, Elberon joined the trio, and they became guards for Saggon, Over-Boss of the Thieves Guild. But Saggon’s shipments of pipeweed contained a secret over which Melinda battled the group. During this time, Elberon first encountered the Screaming Skull (when Melinda attacked him with it) and became embroiled in closing the Hellmouth beneath the Blue Falcon Inn. Later, he drank a concoction called the Flaming Telepath, which brought him to the First Universe and a meeting with Jo Ki-Rin, a chimerical creature who warned that Elberon must accept a quest to save all of creation. The “monomyth” at the core of Ferguson’s series opener is the same one that fuels innumerable fantasies, from Tolkien’s work to the Star Wars series. The winning difference here is the author’s tone, which would make the foulmouthed, fourth wall–smashing Marvel character Deadpool proud. Elberon calls Woerth a “chamber pot of competing cultures and religions from dozens of different universes.” This gives the author the widest possible canvas on which to scribble his own multicolored brand of mayhem—and the narrative leeway to quote Pulp Fiction. He discusses not only the Multiverse, wherein, most likely, “some pimply teenaged loser sits in his parents’ basement drawing” dungeons “on graph paper and randomly inserting monsters, traps, and treasure,” but also author Michael Moorcock, who deals vibrantly with alternate realities in his Elric series. Even Ferguson’s key villain, Koscheis, has echoes in “Sauron, Voldemort, Lord Foul...or Vladimir Putin.” This isn’t to say that the story is complete silliness. The prose frequently lets rip some epic imagery, as when “a house-sized mushroom cloud of napalm condensed out of the atmosphere, balled itself up into a miniature sun, and surged forth with a massive sonic boom.” And while the main characters riff humorously on archetypes—and the minor ones mock everything else (Father Frito of Lay, for example)—they experience events deeply. Elberon’s regret over cheating on average Melinda with gorgeous Cassiopeia brings humanity to a cavalcade of gonzo exploits. Readers will likely return for the sequel, perhaps more for the king’s unpredictable narration than the plot itself.

A joyously coarse and self-aware epic fantasy.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73256-621-7

Page Count: 492

Publisher: Phabulousity Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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