A brisk, enjoyable supernatural tale of black magic and powerful spells.

THE PAWNS

In this paranormal sequel, an immortal witch’s past and present collide as an old enemy seeks revenge.

Travis Coman, like other witches, feeds on “mortal essence.” This typically kills mortals, but Travis, a psychologist in Bucharest, Romania, uses an orb and ancestral magic to ingest patients’ essences nonlethally. It’s a way for his coven and mortals to peacefully coexist, alleviating witches’ fears of detection. Sadly, as Travis is still perfecting this technique, the orb seemingly infects recent patient Marku Catargiu with a murderous demon. By the time Travis realizes a student named Andrei may also be infected, the young man and his father, Stefan, are in Sussex, Vermont—the place the witch first experimented with his family’s magic. Travis and his female friend and fellow witch Sorinah make the overseas trip to cast the demon out, unaware that a vengeance-minded witch awaits them in Vermont. This elaborate revenge scheme against Travis also involves local mortal Rachel, whose recurring nightmares amazingly lead her to a body—possibly that of her best friend who disappeared four years ago. Travis fights to save Andrei as well as protect himself and his Sussex friends before the evil witch hurts anyone. Gabriel’s story moves at an impressive pace. Despite abundant dialogue tying this narrative to the first installment, scenes and conversations are effectively concise. Even readers new to the series will easily follow the mostly linear plot. Action comes in quick bursts and comprises such entertaining bits as a witch capable of “shifting”—inhabiting an animal with a vicious bite. Standouts among the solid cast include smart and reliable Sorinah, often the voice of reason (even when using witches’ telepathic “transference”), and Rachel, whose haunting dreams may indicate a psychic ability. The engaging story boasts gleeful twists and betrayals, though some readers will see them coming. The ending opens intriguing doors for further installments.

A brisk, enjoyable supernatural tale of black magic and powerful spells.

Pub Date: May 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-9979449-5-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gramercy Fiction

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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