A wild riff on interspecies warfare sure to make pet owners think twice the next time their tabby cats dart by.

MORTE

A war novel/religious allegory about cats, dogs and giant ants driven by a hive mind. Yes, really.                    

So, let’s imagine W. Bruce Cameron’s silly and maudlin A Dog’s Purpose recast as a violent and frightening post-apocalyptic global battle for the souls of Earth’s survivors, layered with a messiah prophecy that makes The Matrix look simplistic by comparison. If that’s a bit much, maybe just think Animal Farm re-imagined by Orson Scott Card. Either way, you end up with this devilishly entertaining debut about anthropomorphized animals caught in a conflict between an invading army of insects and the planet’s few remaining humans. The novel begins from the point of view of Sebastian, an aloof but observant house cat whose only true companion is a dog named Sheba. Through animal eyes, he describes Earth’s descent into chaos as giant ants—that’s Hymenoptera unus to you—break through the planet’s crust to wreak havoc on human civilization. At the heart of their plan is the decision to release a virus that gives all animals self-awareness, a bipedal structure and better-than-human intelligence. After the change, Sebastian recreates himself as the cat-warrior Mort(e), the hero of a breakaway army called The Red Sphinx. “Don’t you all know who this is?” says his superior to a new crop of recruits. “This is Mort(e). The hero of the Battle of the Alleghenies. The Mastermind of the Chesapeake Bridge Bombing. The crazy bastard who assassinated General Fitzpatrick in broad daylight. This choker was killing humans before some of you were born.” After a while the story gets kind of messy with a memetic virus called “EMSAH,” the aforementioned prophecy and the preordained battle to end all wars, but it’s still awfully good sci-fi that imagines a world where humans are no longer at the top of the food chain.

A wild riff on interspecies warfare sure to make pet owners think twice the next time their tabby cats dart by.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61695-427-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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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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