This second installment deftly reinforces an intelligent, absorbing supernatural series.

SCRIBBLING THE ETERNAL

From the Black Wax Vampire Trilogy series , Vol. 2

In this sequel, a young vampire seeks revenge against the vicious and powerful empress responsible for her mother’s death.

It’s been six years since Orly Solodnikova lost her mother, who committed suicide by sunlight. Bloodline empress Mirela Cobălcescu persuaded her to do so by promising not to kill her daughter. Orly has spent those years in Japan with fellow vampire Berthold Leitz, who had been in love with her mother. But Orly still wants retribution upon returning to Los Angeles with Berthold and Mayuko Mochizuki, Orly’s mortal servant who’s become her closest friend. Surprisingly, Mirela invites Orly to Romania for the upcoming Communion of the Ancients, when the centuries-old Ancients offer their blood to the empress. Mirela wants to utilize Orly for her scribbles, a pre-vampirism skill in which she sees people’s deepest secrets. The empress suspects traitors among the Ancients, including the Eternal—the ones who have survived over 2,000 years. But Mirela also wants to be Orly’s lover. Indeed, Orly craves romantic love, and potential suitors are lacking, as the 22-year-old vampire is stuck in a 12-year-old body. Although Mirela vows to steal a woman’s body for Orly, trust between the two comes in small doses. Orly, meanwhile, discovers possible allies among the Eternal but must remain cautious, as Mirela, at 5,000-plus years, is the oldest of her bloodline. The key to defeating her may lie with enigmatic Ji’Indushul, whose name repeatedly appears in the Ancients’ scribbles and whom Orly will have to find.

Tomoguchi’s sequel is just as somber as the series opener. Orly, for one, is so desperate for affection that she gets in contact online with a pedophile. Even intimate moments between Mirela and Orly, which aren’t excessively graphic, still involve an “underdeveloped,” prepubescent body. Nevertheless, endlessly enthralling characters populate the story. The lengthy opening in Japan aptly establishes Orly’s rock-solid bond with Mayuko, who joins her in Romania. But Orly isn’t the most compassionate protagonist; as she must regularly feed, she kills mortals with callousness and no remorse. The author rarely strays from well-known vampire lore: The immortals drink blood, sleep in coffins, and have such powers as a mesmerizing gaze. But as Orly has been a vampire for a mere decade, her abilities are limited, and she gradually acquires new skills, including telepathy. At the same time, there’s the Oblivion, a memorable dreamlike place that only certain vampires can reach and which renders them vulnerable. Occasional humor, though minimal, somewhat alleviates the story’s bleak tone: After Orly refuses to drink from a willing mortal savored by other vampires, Mirela dubs her a “blood snob.” Still, the unnerving moments take precedence. In one scene, Mayuko screams when she spots a blatant attack against Orly. But no one in Mirela’s castle immediately responds since a “mortal scream” is an all-too-common occurrence. As the story progresses, Orly questions her own motivations (perhaps she has genuine feelings for her enemy), ultimately leading to some indelible plot turns and a blistering denouement.

This second installment deftly reinforces an intelligent, absorbing supernatural series. (acknowledgments)

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-55993-3

Page Count: 537

Publisher: Ink Bleed Books

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2020

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Terrifying, primal, and very, very tense. Read it with your heart in your throat—but read it.

ONE STEP TOO FAR

Frankie Elkin, a miraculous finder of missing persons, seeks a man who wandered into the wilderness and was never seen again.

Last seen rescuing a missing teenager from the gritty streets of Boston, Frankie embarks from a bus in Ramsey, Wyoming, drawn in by the story of hiker Timothy O’Day, who's been missing for five years, and the last-gasp efforts of his father, Martin, to search for his remains. Frankie has some regrets about leaving Boston, but she's called to find those others have given up on. She manages to finagle her way on to the search party, which in addition to Martin includes a local guide; a search-and-rescue dog and her handler; a Bigfoot expert; and Tim’s friends, who were in the woods with him when he went missing. In the years since, they’ve moved on with their lives, but they are carrying guilt and secrets about the night Tim disappeared. As they all head into the unforgiving wilderness, it quickly becomes apparent that someone is deeply threatened by this effort to find Tim’s body. As she endeavors to draw the truth from each member of the search party, Frankie can tell that she's in over her head, and not only because she’s an inexperienced outdoorswoman. Could Tim still be alive and looking for revenge, or is there a more dangerous secret that someone would kill to protect? Gardner is incredibly skilled at developing tension and suspense; she’s equally skilled at slowly revealing complex characters and their secrets. Both gifts reinforce each other in this novel. If Frankie is out of her element, so are we: It’s not often that a thriller so deeply casts us into the darkness of both nature and the human heart.

Terrifying, primal, and very, very tense. Read it with your heart in your throat—but read it.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18541-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.

THE CAMEL CLUB

A lukewarm would-be potboiler of uninvolving intrigue about a kooky quartet of conspiracy theorists—one by the name of “Oliver Stone”—who witness the murder of a federal agent.

Almost 8,000 Americans have died in attacks on U.S. soil. Rocket-propelled grenades have pierced the White House, there’s been another prison fiasco in Afghanistan, a dozen soldiers are dying every day and the war has opened a new front on the Syrian border. Thus the author’s bleak imagining of the near future. Throughout, Baldacci (Hour Game, 2004, etc.) drops reliable twists, revealing the federal agent murder to be—surprise—a minuscule piece of a much bigger plot involving snipers, nukes, a presidential kidnapping and an even gloomier vision of the future. Baldacci is not a particularly graceful writer, e.g., “Like all Secret Service agents, his suits were designed a little big in the chest, to disguise the bulge of the weapon.” Worse is the author’s chronic inability to draw convincing characters. Scooby-Doo had villains more complicated than these; distinctive quirks of the characters, such as one wearing 19th-century clothing, make them only mildly interesting. Baldacci himself seems only partly engaged in the task here. He writes as if he imagines his typical reader to be a business traveler staring down a long layover.

Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2005

ISBN: 0-446-57738-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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