Sometimes too talky but richly detailed and expertly plotted. A grand entertainment.

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CITY OF BLADES

“Don’t forget, it was their choice to get involved in this war”: Fantasian Bennett builds another world, convincingly, in which empires rise and fall and blood flows.

Less literarily allusive than its predecessor, City of Stairs (2014), this contribution to that worldbuilding epic is also more somber in tone, not that there isn't some good humor along the way. Turyin Mulaghesh, sometime general in the Saypuri army, is righteously ticked off to discover that someone in the bureaucracy is messing with her pension, luring her in for an unpromising mission: she’ll need to go to the ghost city of Voortyashtan, where a massive harbor project is underway to consolidate imperial power, and hang tight until the paperwork can get straightened out. But there’s more to it than that, for which reason Mulaghesh grumbles, “Why in hells would I want to do this?” Yes, hells, for when she’s not spitting out stronger curses, Mulaghesh talks like a teenager down at the mall or a Viking with a hangover (“If you’re not the kin of Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, then I am a dead fucking dog”). Bad things are happening in Voortyashtan, one-time home of the gods who fell in defeat to the empire; in its raw tribal violence and the unending atrocities clashing armies commit it might be another Afghanistan, though there are ghosts and gods in twilight to contend with, to say nothing of strange doings down beneath the surface of the planet. Shades of Outland, Dr. Lazarus! Yet the crimes are less cut and dried than all that, especially when a giant metal woman comes into the picture, “her hands…nothing but knives, long and curved and thin….” Bennett clearly has fun doing all the scene-setting and complicating that his tale involves, and while in the end this is a warning against the totalitarian impulse, it makes all kinds of detours into the dark hearts of men—and women, too.

Sometimes too talky but richly detailed and expertly plotted. A grand entertainment.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-41971-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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