An ambitious and moody, if occasionally puzzling, supernatural thriller.

THE BANISHED

A fantasy tale about the political squabbles of a group of witches.

Travis belongs to a long line of esteemed witches in an ancient coven in Bucharest, Romania. The coven has kept itself secret for centuries, relying on ritual killings, disguised as accidents, to sustain itself. Travis’ parents, Monica and Victor, are interested in a more advanced magic that feeds off mortal fear and the reanimation of dead people, which they believe would relieve the coven of the need to kill; they begin to experiment with it even though the council of witches forbids it. As a result, the council kills Monica and Victor, leaving Travis an orphan. Hard-line council members, dedicated to the old ways, see him as a threat and attempt to kill him, too, but he escapes and meets up with fellow orphan and excommunicated witch Sorinah Patrascu in Bratislava. Under her tutelage, Travis hones his skills. Over a century later, he moves to the sleepy American town of Sussex, Vermont, to put his parents’ magic to the test. Specifically, he plans to wreak havoc on the town in order to draw enough power to seek revenge against the witch council. His plan becomes complicated when he becomes romantically involved with Paula, his mortal neighbor, and gets to know her children and their friends. Meanwhile, a scheming council member has learned of Travis’ plans and will do anything to stop him. Gabriel, over the course of his debut novel, offers a story that’s truly action-packed. However, its frequent time-jumps, which have a cinematic feel, can be disorienting. Within the first 20 pages of the novel, for example, readers are taken from Travis’ 15th birthday to his parents’ young adulthood in the 1870s to Travis’ birth and then to his 12th birthday. That said, the author still manages to set up a fast-paced, complex tale of good and evil featuring a protagonist who has morally unconventional motivations. The story’s conclusion, though, is a bit too rushed to be fully satisfying—particularly after all the heady groundwork that precedes it.

An ambitious and moody, if occasionally puzzling, supernatural thriller.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 347

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2019

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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