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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Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

HELL BENT

From the Alex Stern series , Vol. 2

A Yale sophomore fights for her life as she balances academics with supernatural extracurriculars in this smart fantasy thriller, the second in a series.

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a member of Lethe House, the ninth of Yale’s secret societies. And not just any member—she’s Virgil, the officer who conducts the society's rituals. In the world of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, Yale’s secret societies command not just powerful social networks, but actual magic; it’s Lethe’s job to keep that magic in control. Alex is new to the role. She had to take over in a hurry after the previous Virgil, Darlington, her mentor and love interest, disappeared in a cliffhanger at the end of the first book. He appears to be in hell, but is he stuck there for good? Alex and Pamela Dawes—Lethe’s Oculus, or archivist/administrator—have found a reference to a pathway called a Gauntlet that can open a portal to hell, but can they find the Gauntlet itself? And what about the four murderers the Gauntlet ritual requires? Meanwhile, Alex’s past as a small-time drug dealer is catching up with her, adding gritty street crime to the demonic white-collar evil the Yale crowd tends to prefer. The plot is relentless and clever, and the writing is vivid, intelligent, and funny at just the right moments, but best of all are the complex characters, such as the four murderers, each with a backstory that makes it possible for the reader to trust them to enter hell and have the strength to leave again. Like the first book, this one ends with a cliffhanger.

Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-31310-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

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FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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